The lack of protection against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons at the Ministry of National Defense’s (MND) new headquarters is “irresponsible” and could endanger Taiwan, a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker said yesterday.
Senior military leaders told the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) that the buildings under construction in Taipei’s Dazhi (大直) would not be outfitted with EMP countermeasures as planned because of budget problems.
The NT$200 million (US$6.9 million) system was scrapped despite comprising just 1.3 percent of the facility’s total construction budget and the NT$84 million already invested in the system, the Liberty Times quoted sources as saying, adding that the military was not happy.
The information comes amid news that China has been developing EMP weapons in the event of a conflict with Taiwan.
EMP weapons can be used to emit a huge pulse of electromagnetic radiation that can knock out all electronics — particularly computers — over a widespread area.
“The Ministry of National Defense should have built the protection regardless of its budgetary concerns,” DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said.
“Without it, it is like a soldier going to a battlefield not carrying a gun. Our whole military network could be completely taken offline,” Tsai said.
The long-delayed headquarters complex has been under construction since 2003. Originally envisioned to be a state-of-the-art facility, the construction process has been plagued by contractor problems, including a bankruptcy, leading to a Control Yuan probe.
The report about the lack of an EMP shield could trigger new questions over the practicality of the NT$15.8 billion project.
Military analysts believe that China could be planning to cause a massive low-altitude EMP burst over Taiwan in the event of an armed conflict in such a way that would severely damage electronics — disabling weapons systems — but kill few people and not impact China.
That scenario was detailed by a 2005 National Ground Intelligence Center report declassified earlier this month. China’s EMP capability could be used as a surprise measure after an initial strike to help dissuade the US from intervening, the report said.
Ministry spokesperson Colonel Lo Shao-ho (羅紹和) told the Liberty Times that the decision to drop EMP protection was made four years ago after changes to the building’s design increased construction costs. However, the NT$84 million already invested in the system meant it could be added at a later point, he said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said the system should be put in place now, given the concerns raised by the recently released intelligence report.
“It should be finished,” Lin said. “One EMP blast could immediately knock out any product using a power transformer, including computers and other electronics ... it would be too late to deal with the aftereffects.”