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Chinese Threat, US Hesitance Drive Taiwan's Munitions Push

Jul. 27, 2014 - 04:20PM   |  
By WENDELL MINNICK   |   Comments
The indigenous Hsiung Feng 3 has been called a carrier killer.
The indigenous Hsiung Feng 3 has been called a carrier killer. (Wendell Minnick / Staff)
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TAIPEI — Taiwan’s efforts to develop and produce a variety of munitions spring from two fears: fear of China and fear that Washington will fail to live up to its promises to provide arms in the event of a Chinese invasion. The weapons efforts also stimulate the economy of the self-governing island, said a Ministry of National Defense (MND) source.

The latest such weapon is the Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords), Taiwan’s first joint standoff weapon, which was unveiled in January. Modeled after the US-built AGM-154 and the European-built Storm Shadow, the missile is meant to allow Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) to attack runways. This will allow Taiwan to take any fight with China “downtown,” said one former US defense official. The IDF is currently waiting to begin upgrades of its second wing to handle the Wan Chien. The first wing of IDFs finished its mid-life upgrade program last year, said the MND source.

Local defense industry and MND sources note that Washington withheld the sale of new F-16 fighter aircraft to Taiwan due to political pressure from China. Taiwan lodged the request to buy 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft in 2006. The aircraft would have supplemented Taiwan’s 146 F-16A/B Block 20s, which are to be upgraded under a 2009 US package.

They also point to US reluctance to sell Taiwan the AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile. Taipei placed the order in 2000, but the US State Department declined to release the missiles until China bought Russian R-77 air-to-air missiles in 2002.

The MND source said Taipei worries that the US will not provide “advanced” weapons because of pressure from Beijing and because US officials worry that Chinese spies on the island would steal the weapons’ secrets.

Taiwan’s indigenous efforts include air-to-air missiles, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, land-attack cruise missiles, and a new joint standoff weapon.

Most of these munitions are developed and built by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST). Less advanced weapons and munitions are produced by the Manufacturing and Production Center (MPC) under the Armaments Bureau. For example, MPC’s 205 Arsenal produces rifles and hand­guns, such as the new T93 sniper rifle, while its 202 Arsenal produces large-caliber guns such as artillery, mortars, and 40mm grenade launchers.

Advanced Weapons

The three-year production run of the road-mobile Thunder 2000 (Ray Ting) artillery multiple launch rocket system (AMLRS), delivered to the Army, has ended, CSIST sources said. The AMLRS can carry one container of 20 Mk15 (15-kilometer range) 117mm rockets, two containers of nine Mk30 (30-kilometer range) 180mm rockets, or two containers of six Mk45 230mm rockets. Warhead options include anti-personnel and anti-material sub-munitions and high-explosive warheads.

Two CSIST missiles developed over the past 10 years have recently found the spotlight: the Hsiung Feng 3 (Brave Wind) anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) and the Hsiung Feng 2E land attack cruise missile. MND sources have said that the US government has pressured Taiwan to end both programs, saying they would hurt cross-strait relations. Moreover, the US has warned Taiwan not to violate the Missile Technology Control Regime, which restricts the export of missiles that can carry 500 kilograms more than 300 kilometers.

MND officials, who call the US stance a double standard, have repeatedly reminded the US of China’s 1,000-plus short-range ballistic missiles aimed at the island.

The Hsiung Feng 3 ASCM is on eight of the Navy’s Perry-class frigates and 12 Jing Chiang-class corvettes. The rocket and ramjet-powered supersonic ASCM has been dubbed the “carrier-killer” by the local media, a reference to China’s new aircraft carrier. After a decade of development, the Hsiung Feng 3 was unveiled to the public in the Ten-Ten Parade in 2007, but no details were announced of its operational capabilities until 2009 when the missile was displayed at Taiwan’s biennial defense show. The range given at that time was 130 kilometers at 2,300 kilometers per hour. The MND has announced plans to outfit its future Sea Swift catamaran with a mix of Hsiung Feng 2 and 3 missiles.

The Hsiung Feng 2E LACM remains a mystery; CSIST has given no official data, confirming only that the HF-2E has been deployed along the west coast facing China. The media has photographed one disguised as a pastel-blue civilian delivery truck painted with the words “Red Bird Express Delivery.”

CSIST is also developing a new member of its Tien Kung (Sky Bow) family of surface-to-air missiles. Taiwan has fielded Tien Kung 1 and 2 systems on the main island and outer islands of Penghu and Dongyin, near Matsu. Unlike the Hsiung Feng 1 and 2, the new missile is said by CSIST sources to be able to shoot down Chinese short-range ballistic missiles.

The missile was unveiled at the 2007 Ten-Ten Parade and subsequent local defense exhibitions, but MND sources indicate money for production has dried up. Testing continues at the Jiupeng Missile Testing Range in southeast Taiwan. ■

Email: wminnick@defensenews.com.

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