New Capability: The Wan Chien improves Taiwan's ability to defeat enemy air defenses. (Wendell Minnick/staff)
TAINAN AIR FORCE BASE, TAIWAN — The Taiwan Air Force’s first joint standoff weapon (JSOW), unveiled at a ceremony last week, is intended to suppress enemy air defenses and should complicate any invasion plans China might have in mind, a defense expert said.
Dubbed the Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords), the weapon was displayed Jan. 16 at the airbase here in southwestern Taiwan during the inauguration of recently upgraded indigenous defense fighters under the 443 Tactical Fighter Wing. President Ma Ying-jeou attended the ceremony.
The indigenous defense fighter “Gohawk” combat jet includes new avionics, radar, a head-up display and the air-launched Wan Chien.
This is the first precision weapon of its kind for Taiwan, said Eric Shih, a Taiwan defense specialist. “China should be afraid” should it decide to invade, he said.
Shih compared the glide bomb to the US-built AGM-154 JSOW and the European-built Storm Shadow.
Developed by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), the Wan Chien has been compared to a cluster bomb used to destroy runways. But Shih insists its basic mission is the suppression of enemy air defenses, which would include runways, radars, anti-aircraft missiles and electronic intelligence facilities.
With a range of 200 kilometers, the turbojet Wan Chien is guided to its target by a GPS receiver and an inertial navigation system, a Taiwan Ministry of National Defense source said.
All indigenous defense fighters under the 443 Wing can be outfitted with the weapon and are ready to defend Taiwan, an MND source said.
These will “definitely provide a meaningful new capability for Taiwan, irrespective of its actual overall performance,” said Fu Mei, director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center. “Being a powered and guided munitions dispenser, the Wan Chien could be used against a broad range of targets, including ones deeper inside the Chinese mainland.”
Washington has resisted selling Taiwan what it terms “offensive” weapons, although China deploys many against Taiwan. A US defense industry source said the MND has reached a “state of panic,” with MND officials complaining the US has refused to provide Taiwan with new F-16 fighter jets to replace its fleet of aging Mirage 2000 and F-5 fighters.
The US has withheld fulfilling Taiwan’s request for 66 new F-16C/D fighters since 2006, and the 2011 release of an upgrade package for 145 F-16A/Bs could be derailed by US defense budget cuts that endanger the US Air Force’s Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite program for its own F-16s.
Indigenously produced weapons could be Taiwan’s only answer to continued lobbying by China in Washington to suspend future arms sales to Taiwan.
The Wan Chien gives Taiwan an advantage, as it is an “indigenously developed capability, which gives Taiwan an added degree of independence of action, if the capability should ever have to be used in anger,” Fu Mei said.
The Wan Chien follows the recent deployment of Taiwan’s first land-attack cruise missile, the Hsiung Feng 2E, outfitted on mobile trucks. The trucks have been disguised as commercial delivery vehicles.
It is unclear how many Wan Chiens will be built, but Taiwan has two wings (443/427) of indigenous defense fighters totaling 126 fighters. The state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. built 130 aircraft, which began entering service in 1994.
The new upgrades indicate the self-ruled democracy intends to take Chinese invasion threats seriously.