Taiwan: Missile Needed To Buy Time in Attack
BY WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — During a rare public discussion of the Hsiung Feng 2E (Brave Wind) land attack cruise missile, Taiwanese Vice Defense Minister Ko Chen-heng said the weapon is needed to allow time for U.S. forces to arrive to protect Taiwan from a Chinese attack.
“I won’t deny there’s a development plan, but can’t say whether it has been completed,” Ko told Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which published the remarks Jan. 25. “It’s ‘under development,’ I should say. The range cannot be publicized, but they aren’t intended to strike civilian targets such as in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
“Since China lacks capability to cruise across the Taiwan Strait for a landing operation, China intends to fire missiles in the political and economic nerve centers of Taiwan to cause social paralysis, thereby forcing the U.S. to surrender.”
Ko said China is also working to turn the Taiwan Strait into an “internal sea of China.”
Militarily, this means building an aircraft carrier by 2015 and several more by 2020, and increasing submarine patrols in the area. But this also includes efforts to redefine the internationally recognized air defense identification zone to include what is now Taiwanese airspace. Ko said Chinese military aircraft are crossing the centerline of the Taiwan Strait more often — five or six times a year, up from once or twice annually in the late 1990s.
The quotes were confirmed by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND).
The HF-2E program, begun in 1998 by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, aims to develop a “tactical shore-based missile for fire suppression,” a reference to China’s 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. The missile, which reportedly can carry a 400-kilogram warhead more than 600 miles, is intended to deter or respond to a Chinese missile attack.
Despite previous support from the legislature, the HF-2E production budget has been frozen for 2008. Observers say it appears Beijing has been pressing Washington to lean on Taipei.
“There are indications that the U.S. government has been pressuring Taiwan to halt its HF-2E land attack cruise missile program before it enters into full-rate production,” said Mark Stokes, who was the top Taiwan expert in the Pentagon’s Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1997 to 2004.
Ko said the HF-2E was meant to help hold off a Chinese attack until U.S. forces could arrive.
“China has boosted its capabilities to prevent intervention by the U.S. military in times of emergency,” Ko said. “Taiwan must wait for the arrival of U.S. troops to fight together. Therefore, it is essential to secure capabilities to make counterattacks on China’s missile and radar bases as well as runways for military aircraft in order to buy time to delay China’s invasion of Taiwan.”
Not everyone in the MND agrees with the need for U.S. forces during a war with China. One senior MND officer believes that “waiting for U.S. forces is unnecessary and may be inappropriate.”
“It’s our job to defend Taiwan, regardless of U.S. intervention,” the official said. “Waiting for U.S. intervention should not be the reason for counterattack capability. We are determined to defend our homeland and we need any system that makes sense and contributes to our successful defense against the incoming enemy, by ourselves.”
The officials said the HF-2E makes tactical and strategic sense.
“It is the politicians and diplomats who have problems with it,” the MND official said. “How many times have they asked Taiwan not to politicize defense? KMT [The Kuomintang] kills it because it pleases Beijing and Washington, and they think Beijing won’t attack Taiwan once they are in power [in 2008]. A dangerous thought.”
In the past, Taiwan relied on a squadron of aircraft for these missions, Stokes said.
“F-5s, AT-3s and F-16s have been equipped with 500- and 1,000-pound bombs and Maverick air-to-surface missiles, with F-16s also equipped with U.S.-supplied navigation and targeting pods,” he said.
However, the United States expressed disapproval with this strategy in 2005 by denying MND requests for Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) and AGM-88C High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles.
The HF-2E program was begun in response to improvements in Chinese air defenses.
“The PRC’s [People’s Republic of China’s] deployment of advanced air defenses along the coast has made use of fixed-winged assets a risky proposition,” Stokes said. “To maintain the status quo, Taiwan began the HF-2E program under the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] administration, and the U.S. government has been monitoring its status since its inception. However, in 2006, the State Department is said to have begun demarching Taiwan on the program.”
Stokes said U.S. officials might demand that Taiwan kill the missile program before receiving the F-16s.
He also said the U.S. officials had had little to say about the program for its first few years.
“Up until 2006, the U.S. government had said little, if anything, about the program. U.S. delegations had been briefed on the program beginning as early as 1999. The U.S. government reversal has been surprising to some,” Stokes said.
Alexander Huang, a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies who lives in Taipei, believes the HF-2E project can help Taiwan in missile-related technologies.
“The LACM [land attack cruise missile], if successfully developed, could be a tactical deterrent, and strategic bargaining chip in possible military CBMs,” or confidence-building measures, he said.
“Should a military conflict be unavoidable, firing LACMs with the Taiwan military emblem can indirectly give the U.S. some flexibility in diplomatic terms. Close command-to-command consultation and real-time notification between Taipei and Camp Smith will reduce the risk of unintended incidents. In short, I am not naïve nor hawkish, but I support the program.”