TAIPEI • Taiwan began two days of military drills yesterday simulating an attack by China, as the government sought to reassure the public in the face of deteriorating relations with Beijing.
The island's armed forces gathered in central Taiwan for annual drills that saw troops practise combat skills with tanks, attack helicopters and artillery.
"The military has active measures to deal with the situation in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, so the public can rest assured. We will enhance training 365 days a year," defence spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.
Yesterday's drill mimicked an attack by China in a scenario where its war vessels have crossed over the middle line of the Taiwan Strait.
Soldiers held positions next to a United States-made Avenger air defence missile system during the drill in central Taichung city as special forces moved in formation through woods, and a tank set off smoke bombs and crushed a car.
It comes after Beijing's only aircraft carrier sailed through the strait last week in what was seen as a show of strength. The Liaoning did not enter Taiwanese waters but went into an area covered by its air defence zone. Chinese military aircraft also passed near Taiwan on Dec 10 last year for the second time in less than a month.
In addition to the drills, the air force confirmed yesterday that an upgrade of Taiwan's 143 F-16s was under way, with materials supplied by US aerospace company Lockheed Martin, which manufactured the jets. "Taiwan is the first country in the world to upgrade the F-16 A/B fighters to F-16 V. We are enhancing our aerial capabilities to ensure national security," an air force official said. The government-funded project, code-named Phoenix Rising, has a budget of US$3.47 billion (S$4.9 billion) and aims to be complete within the next six years.
Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan has said the F-16 V could match China's Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter, although the Chinese media has dismissed this as an "illusion".