- Fighter jets and other combat aircraft used Taiwan's main highway as a makeshift airstrip
- Drill part of annual military exercises that simulate an attack by China
- Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province.
- It hasn't ruled out use of force to achieve reunification
Fighter jets and other combat aircraft used Taiwan's main highway as a makeshift airstrip Tuesday as part of a dawn drill that simulated an attack from China.
Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) said the aircraft practiced emergency take-offs and landings near the city of Chiayi, on a section of the main north-south route that runs along the island's west coast. Ground crews practiced refueling and re-loading ammunition, CNA said.
The drill is part of Taiwan's annual "Han Kuang" exercises that last five days and test the military's combat readiness in the event of an attack from China, said J. Michael Cole, a correspondent for IHS Jane's Defense Weekly and a fellow of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in the UK.
"Taiwan is a small place with a limited number of air bases," he told CNN.
"China has 1,500 to 1,600 short and mid-range missiles targeted at Taiwan and it's understood that the first phase of a missile attack would target these air bases so they would have to find an alternative."
The aircraft involved included an F-16 A/B jet fighter, a Mirage 2000-5 and an Indigenous Defensive Fighter, as well as an E-2K airborne early warning aircraft, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, an OH-58D reconnaissance helicopter and two AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, CNA reported.
The military exercises also involve live-fire maritime drills on Taiwan's east coast and near the island of Penghu in the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has never ruled out the use of force to achieve reunification.
Relations between the two sides have improved since the Kuomintang party came to power in Taiwan's 2008 election.
In February, Taiwan and China held their highest level talks for more than six decades -- the first government-to-government contact since the pair's acrimonious split in 1949 amid civil war.
Cole said that while relations have improved in some respects, with more exchanges in terms of tourism, investment and education, the underlying cause of the conflict has yet to be resolved.
"People here see themselves as Taiwanese but at some point Beijing will want them to move nearer (to reunification) and the military option remains on the table. In my view, it's a distant probability but it remains an option."