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Airbase Overview

Taiwan is reported to have a total of 36 airfields with paved runways, and of these at least 26 have runways longer than the minimum of about 5,000 feet that would be required to support combat aircraft. Of these, five are highway strips longer than 8,000 feet, that could be used as expedient dispersal airstrips. Although there is no single open source profile of Taiwan's airfield infrastructure, it is possible to replicate these estimates. Various open source authorities attest to somewhat over 40 airfields and kindred aviation related facilities, although it is almost certainly the case that at least some of these entities are navigation beacons with no associated runway.

  LENGTH            Airfield  Airstrip   TOTAL*     IDENTIFIED
                    [paved]   [unpaved]
    over 10,000 ft:     8                  8             8
8,000 to 10,000 ft:    12                 12             9
5,000 to  8,000 ft:     6        1         7             6
3,000 to  5,000 ft:     6                  6             7 
    under 3,000 ft:     4        2         6             0 
UNKOWN                                                   7 
UNKOWN - probable NAVAID                                 6
___________________________________________________________
TOTAL                  36        3        39            43 

* SOURCE: CIA World Factbook

Runways are attractive targets for enemy aircraft to take out. A bomb is dropped on a runway, which creates a large crater putting the runway out of commission. If aircraft can't get off the ground, then they can't fight. Rapid runway repair is a long, tedious process that is vital to success on the battlefield and in the skies. The main focus in airfield repair is the Minimum Operating Strip (MOS), which the United States doctrinally defines as 15 by 1,525 square meters for fighter aircraft and 26 by 2,134 square meters for cargo aircraft.

Coalition attacks on runways complicated Iraqi air base operations, but there is little evidence that they hampered sortie rates. Iraqi runways were reportedly repaired in as little as four to six hours. Under ideal conditions with a motivated crew, the rapid runway repair task would take a minimum of about four hours. If reasonable allowances are made for the cold weather impacts on both the soldiers and equipment used for a snowy, windy 20F day, the time is increased to about seven hours. In the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973, Arab repair teams typically restored damaged runways in nine to twelve hours. [source]

Taiwan's Ministry of Defense estimates that a Chinese M-family missile with a 500-kg warhead would create a crater 10 meters in depth and 20 meters in width after hitting the ground, and that it could take as many as 50 missiles to destroy a military airport. According to a RAND Corporation analysis, a 500-kg M-9 ballistic-missile warhead covers almost eight times the area when using a submunition warhead than when using a unitary warhead. The combination of increased accuracy from GPS guidance and increased warhead efficiency decreases the number of missiles required to attack airbases from hundreds to dozens.

Although more detailed modeling might produce somewhat different results, these rough order of magnitude estimates suggest that China's existing inventory of a few hundred M-9 and M-11 missiles could inflict only modest damage on Taiwan's Air Force, if steps were taken to disperse aircraft prior to an attack. It is reported that China is expected to field as many as 600 M-9 and M-11 missiles by the year 2005, roughly triple the year 2000 force. Even this substantially augmented missile arsenal would appear inadequate to the task of gaining decisive air superiority through airfield attacks.

Sources and Methods


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Updated Friday, May 12, 2000 12:00:01 AM