Han Kuang is a field training exercise that occurs annually in Taiwan, and it sees the majority of the country’s 210,000 military personnel mobilised.
This exercise has one purpose – to practise repelling an invasion by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). While the militaries of many countries consider numerous threats and scenarios, Taiwan need consider only one – its nemesis across the Taiwan Strait.
There is no political correctness needed here. Taiwan knows who its adversary is, and all its capabilities are designed to repel China. After all, Beijing has not renounced the use of force to reunite the ‘renegade province’ of Taiwan with the mainland, and it has hundreds of missiles aimed at the island.
This year’s Han Kuang exercise, the 32nd in the series, was conducted from 22-26 August, during which some 1,072 tests were completed. This figure included 31 relating to countering cyber attacks, a favoured tactic of the PLA.
Taichung always features highly in Han Kuang exercises, as the port city halfway down the west coast of Taiwan has an extremely high strategic value. If the PLA were to capture it after crossing the rough seas of the Taiwan Strait, a rapid build-up of forces could soon see the island could be split in half.
Chinese troops could move north to capture the political and military nerve centre of Taipei, or south to the port city of Kaohsiung.
After the accidental firing of a Hsiung Feng III anti-ship missile on 1 July, and a CM11 tank rollover that killed four crewmen a week before the exercise kicked off, Taiwan’s military tried hard to create a good impression with this large-scale joint exercise.
For example, the 564th Armoured Brigade hosted an air-land joint exercise in Pingtung in the far south. It featured 1,297 personnel in total, and nearly 8,000 rounds of ammunition of 24 different types were expended.
A key highlight of this year’s exercise was the first-time integration of Boeing AH-64E Apache and Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters side by side. Taiwan acquired 30 of the former (one later crashed) and is in the process of receiving 60 of the latter.
Domestically built equipment featured strongly in Han Kuang too. A Chung Shyang II UAV fed data to participants, while the truck-mounted Point Defence Array Radar System (PODARS) also participated, as did numerous CM33 8×8 APCs.
President Tsai Ing-wen attended the live-fire event, her first time in the capacity as national leader. Donning a helmet and ballistic vest, she stated to assembled military leaders, ‘I hope we can all make use of innovative thinking to build an upgraded military.’
She directed commanders to map out a new military strategy by January 2017 for the armed forces. The military faces severe challenges, including a declining birth rate that means there are not enough volunteers to join the armed forces. This has forced postponement of the cancellation of national conscription.
Another challenge is a defence budget that cannot hope to compete with China. Thus, the capability gap between the PLA and the Republic of China Armed Forces is widening alarmingly.
‘The challenges Taiwan’s defence forces face stem from structural restrictions both outside and inside the military,’ Tsai said. ‘The military will improve if it faces its problems head on. Reform will be achieved if everyone works together, despite the challenges,’ she promised.
It will thus be interesting to see what changes occur in national defence strategy as they begin emerging next year.
In the meantime, Han Kuang seemed to have a successful outcome this year… Taiwan remains under the control of Taipei rather than Beijing!