6 June 2024

Taiwan staged its first-ever military drill at Taoyuan International Airport on Wednesday, briefly halting commercial traffic as soldiers practised defending the facility against a simulated attack by Beijing.

The exercise is part of Taiwan’s week-long massive wargames — the annual “Han Kuang” (Han Glory) drills — which this year has included protecting civilian airports as Beijing ramps up military and political pressures on the island.

This is the first such drill held at Taiwan’s biggest airport near the capital since it opened in 1979.

Analysts said Taiwan is drawing experiences from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which last year fended off a seizure by Russian paratroopers at an airport just outside Kyiv.

“Seeing the experience of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the Battle of Antonov Airport is a successful counter-offensive of the Ukrainian forces in the defence of Kyiv,” said Su Tzu-yun, a military expert at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defence and Security Research.

He added that Taoyuan airport’s proximity to a “red beach” — using a term for a potential landing point for amphibious assaults — makes it especially important to protect it.

“If it were to be seized by China, Chinese paratroopers would join the attack against our troops guarding the beach,” Su told AFP.

Taiwanese soldiers take part in the military Han Guang drill at the Taoyuan International Airport on July 26, 2023. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP)

Alexander Huang, a military expert at Taipei’s Tamkang University, said the seizure of “an adversary’s airport is key to sending in large numbers of assault forces via air transport in an invasion operation”.

He added there was an extra incentive for the Taoyuan drill, besides familiarising Taiwan’s troops with emergency scenarios.

“This drill can also signal to potential enemies that we are getting ourselves prepared for such contingency,” Huang told AFP.

As air traffic was halted for about 30 minutes, dozens of soldiers fought off “enemies” landing on the airport’s tarmac from attack helicopters.

Airport police and firefighters also joined the operation, which the government said is aimed at combining civilian and military forces to protect critical infrastructure.

At the end of it, a soldier climbed a ramp and waved Taiwan’s national flag, signalling victory, as “bodies” were littered nearby.

China, which regards Taiwan as its territory, has upped the pressure in recent years, with near-daily warplane incursions and Chinese vessels deployed around the island’s waters.

The Chinese military has also held two massive drills in waters around Taiwan in the past year, simulating targeted strikes and a blockade of the island.

The military Han Guang drill at the Taoyuan International Airport on July 26, 2023.
(Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP)

‘Whole society defence’

Taiwan holds frequent military drills, but has in recent months increased the civilian component. This week, local governments are conducting air raid drills in different cities.

Troops also conducted an exercise at Taipei’s main train station — a key infrastructure point in the capital — while another drill was held at an oil refinery in Taoyuan.

“We need to start from the concept of a ‘whole-society defence’, to integrate and utilise the resources of the military, central government, local governments and civilian sectors, and to coordinate all units to work together,” said Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, during a visit to the oil refinery where she watched soldiers fend off “attack agents” that parachuted out of helicopters.

“The protection of the oil refinery was incorporated into this Han Kuang exercise to simulate possible attacks or disasters to establish comprehensive contingency measures, and effectively protect our critical infrastructure,” Tsai said.

An airport drill was initially scheduled in Taiwan’s southeast Taitung Tuesday, but was cancelled due to Typhoon Doksuri.

The typhoon — which killed at least one person in northern Philippines — is currently expected to bypass the island as it moves north to mainland China.

By Amber Wang Agence France-Presse