Bring Down the Spyplane

MIG-17 vs. Lockheed U-2

Han Decai (among many others) would find that only a missile could down the high-altitude spyplane. (Courtesy Bob Bergin)
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There were three MiG squadrons that were used against the P2Vs: in Nanjing, Shanghai, and a third in Xuzhou, the northern part of Jiangsu province. Each squadron was responsible for its own sector of the sky. The squadrons were kept on alert, and when a PV2 entered a squadron’s sector, that squadron was ordered into action. Because the P2Vs flew at such a low altitude and could elude the radars, its known movements were coordinated from sector to sector.

How much warning would you get of an incoming P2V mission?

We had intelligence collection that gave us advance warning of an intruder flight. We could intercept signals intelligence that provided indications of an intruder fight, long before that flight took off. From the preparations that we knew were being made on the ground in Taiwan, we could do some calculations and determine when the aircraft would take off and also get some idea of its planned route.

Where would your radars first pick up an intruder?

We could pick them up only at very short range, about 100 kilometers [62 miles] out at sea. Even with a radar station on top of mountain, we still had difficulty tracking incoming aircraft. The P2Vs stayed down very low as they came in, and were hard to pick up. And with the P2Vs being that low, our radar would pick up strong reflections from the waves. In that clutter the PV2 was difficult to track. There were many difficulties that we had to overcome.

And it was also always difficult for the Taiwanese aircrews. They always risked their lives intruding our airspace. These were very dangerous missions for them, and they became even more dangerous for the Taiwanese as PLAAF units all over the country established their own night flying squadrons. It became routine for PLAAF pilots to fly at night.

In overcoming those difficulties, it would seem that the PLAAF created an effective air defense system.

Over time we established an integrated air defense system. We could track the enemy at low altitude and at high altitude. We incorporated our surface-to-air missiles into our air defense system. Then it became really dangerous for Taiwan intruder aircraft to fly over mainland China. Eventually, it was no longer feasible for the Taiwan Air Force to fly intruder missions into mainland China.

What were lessons of this era? What did Taiwan accomplish through these intruder missions that were designed to drop propaganda and agents, and collect electronic intelligence?

What Taiwan achieved was probably negligible. Their intrusion flights affected relatively small areas of China. In the end, all the propaganda leaflets they dropped gained them nothing. Virtually all the agents they dropped were quickly captured by our local forces. Taiwan had some success in the air over China in the early days, before the PLAAF was established. Once the PLAAF was in existence, Taiwan no longer had any significant success.


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