Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taiwan Continues Cruise Missile Effort

Defense News


Taiwan Continues Cruise Missile Effort

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — Taiwan will begin low-rate production of the Hsiung Feng (HF)-2E (Brave Wind) land-attack cruise missile later this year, despite improving cross-Strait relations, U.S. pressure to discontinue the effort, and a slowdown fomented by Beijing-friendly elements in the government, sources at the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and elsewhere said.

Advocates argue that Taiwan must maintain a counterstrike option until China renounces the use of military force as a means of unification and reduces the 1,300­strong batteries of Dong Feng-11 and -15 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at the self-governing island.

“A procedure for building mutual confidence in military affairs cannot be established if China does not give up the use of force and eliminate missiles aimed at Taiwan,” National Defense Minister Chen Chao­min told the legislature March 16.

Chen told legislators the development of HF-2E, which he called a defensive weapon, was approved by the legislature and would continue unless they passed a resolution to kill it.

The Brave Wind will be Taiwan’s first land-based missile that can strike the mainland across the Taiwan Strait, which is no more than 220 kilometers wide and 130 kilometers at its narrowest point. The first production model of the HF­2E will be a 600-kilometer variant; an 800-kilometer variant is under development.

In 2007, the legislature cut the HF­2E budget. Su Chi, then a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator and now the National Security Council secretary-general, said there were fears that Beijing would regard the HF-2E as an offensive weapon. Some legislators suggested the HF-2E could be used to strike Shanghai or the Three Gorges Dam. Ultimately, the program was allowed to continue after a deal between the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and the Beijing-friendly KMT.

In 2008, it was reported that the U.S. government had blocked the export of missile components to Taiwan in an attempt to stop the program. Critics of the move noted that Washington had already sold Taiwan Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, whose land-attack mode is basically the same as the HF-2E.

Despite these hurdles, the program survived, but the election of KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan’s president last year renewed fears that the government would ax the program.

Ma has openly discussed confidence-building measures and a peace treaty with China, drawing fire from opponents who say he is making too many concessions to China without a reciprocal response, such as the reduction of missiles aimed at Taiwan.

Ma has been working to balance efforts to improve relations with Beijing while working to conclude arms purchases from the United States. Taiwan is waiting for a U.S. decision on offers that include submarines, Patriot PAC-3 air defense missile systems and UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters offered by the Bush administration in 2001.

Taiwan’s military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST)’s missile programs include the Tien Kung-3 (Sky Bow) air defense missile system, the Hsiung Feng-3 anti-ship missile and the Tien Chien-2A (Sky Sword) anti-radiation missile to be outfitted on the Indigenous Defense Fighter.

Unconfirmed reports say CSIST is also working on short- and medium­range ballistic missiles.