Military installations on Taiping Island in the South China Sea, now under the control of the Taiwanese military. Photo: Handout
Military installations on Taiping Island in the South China Sea, now under the control of the Taiwanese military. Photo: Handout

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry says a major automation initiative could soon see garrisons pulled back from desolate outlying islands in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, where advanced remote surveillance and defense systems would take over daily patrols and other frontline missions.

Taiwanese papers cited a defense official as saying the majority of troops stationed on outlying islets and atolls as well as in defense buffer zones on the outskirts of Taipei and other major cities would be reassigned elsewhere.

Most troops would be moved to more important barracks and bases responsible for air and surface defense that were in need of reinforcement and fortification.

The Taipei Times reported that the decision to automate surveillance further on remote islets and secondary border control was the ministry’s solution to the drop in number of new recruits. The island is faced with an emerging enlistment crunch due to a tepid fertility rate and an exodus of young people.

In August, the ministry earmarked a NT$725 million (US$23.4 million) budget to buy six indigenous automated close-range defense systems and two joint-forces management systems, as well as repurposing and the construction of bunkers on remote islets.

The acquisitions would help maintain long-range precision firepower and allow the military to engage the enemy with limited troop mobilization in the sea, the sources said.

The new system has two variants: one primarily for the army and the other for the navy, and the main weapon is an auto cannon modeled on the US-made M39, a 20mm-caliber single-barreled revolving cannon. The turrets can be remotely controlled from within a bunker, making their operation significantly less dangerous for soldiers.

The system features a concentrated firing mechanism, allowing one person to take over operation of several systems simultaneously and aim the main barrage at targets.

While the system does not use new technology, it is low-cost and employs electro-optic technology, an area of Taiwan’s expertise.

The new defense systems, developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, have undergone various tests since 2014, with live-fire trials conducted at a naval base on an atoll under the administration of Kinmen county, less than 2 kilometers from China.

The army’s procurement of these locally made automated systems is the result of four years of assessment.

Extensive closed-circuit television networks have been installed on Taiwan’s islets closer to China’s southeastern coast and atolls in the South China Sea as well.

A control center is being built on Taiping Island, aka Itu Aba in the Spratly Archipelago, which is used by the Taiwanese navy and air force as the command and control site for the military’s activities in the vast expanses of disputed waters.

Seamen scattered around various smaller bases on the neighboring islets were being assembled on Taiping Island for consolidated deployment.