China, Taiwan build mountaintop surveillance stations
One Taiwan mountaintop station commands views of the Taiwan Strait, while a major radio facility in Hong Kong is believed to be in use by the PLA
The Taiwanese military said it is now able to keep close tabs on deployments by its mainland counterpart, using high-altitude radar surveillance stations perched on the top of the island’s highest mountains.
For instance, the Hsiaohsuehshan radar station in the Hsuehshan Range in central Taiwan, which has an average elevation of 3,000 meters, now plays a key role in guarding the island’s airspace facing mainland China’s Fujian province.
The peak of the Hsuehshan Range reaches 3,886 meters and straddles two counties of Taichung and Miaoli as the second highest mountain in Taiwan and in East Asia. The peak is also visible in good weather from hills near Taipei.
The Taipei-based United Daily News which dispatched reporters to military enclosed areas there noted that at 3,020m above sea level, visibility from the Hsiaohsuehshan station could be well beyond 20km on a clear day. This makes it a perfect lookout point from which to keep watch on military and civilian vessels passing through the Taiwan Strait. It also provides an excellent viewpoint from which to observe the outskirts of Taipei.
US-made phased-array radar systems are said to have been installed there.
The elevation of the Hsiaohsuehshan station is 400 meters higher than a previous site, which provides a big boost to its effective range.
Due to the austere conditions, Taiwanese troops stationed there are on a 30-day secondment.
Meanwhile, the Chinese military has also been on a spree installing radio stations atop strategically-located hills and mountains throughout China.
The Canada-based Kanwa Information Center, which publishes a monthly magazine on Asian defense issues, said in its November 2014 issue that its intelligence experts had studied a facility located at the top of the 957-meter Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain. They concluded that it was not radar meant to police Hong Kong skies but rather an installation used by the People’s Liberation Army to tap communications.
The facility, constructed in 2011, was far larger in size than the weather radar of the Hong Kong Observatory or the aviation radar for the city’s airport.
Kanwa said the size allowed it to be able to intercept and record signals from cellphones and radios and even signals originating from southern Taiwan as well as from the atolls in the South China Sea under the control of Taiwan’s military.
The installation looks similar to other data mining facilities established in Kashgar in the restive Chinese western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet and along the contested border with India, Kanwa said, adding that its experts saw PLA soldiers wearing air force uniforms go in and out of the facility.
That said, a professor with the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering of the University of Hong Kong expressed doubts about Kanwa’s observations. He said that, technically speaking, a receiving antenna mounted on the tip of Tai Mo Shan could only pick up phone signals within a close vicinity, but not those from urban areas like Central Hong Kong island.
The Hong Kong government said in its reply to media enquiries that the facility was for communications purposes, and not for the use of the Chinese military.