Taiwan Anti-Ship Missile Plan Place China’s Navy in Cross Hairs
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — Taiwan is planning to build an extended-range anti-ship missile, possibly a variant of the Hsiung Feng 3 (Brave Wind), to be deployed on the eastern side of the island and aimed west toward the Taiwan Strait and China’s coast, a Taiwan defense industry source said.
Taiwan is fielding the 300-kilometer-range, ramjet-powered, supersonic Hsiung Feng 3 aboard its eight locally built Oliver Hazard Perry-class (Cheng Kung) frigates. The program is code-named Hsiang Yang (Sun Facing), possibly a reference to Hsiang Yang Mountain between the cities of Hualien and Taitung, the source said.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) denies the existence of the Hsiang Yang program.
“Frankly, I can assure you, there is no truth to it at all,” an MND source said. However, another MND contact confirmed plans to deploy the Hsiung Feng 3 on both coasts but said an extended-range variant was not in the works.
Taiwan is shoring up its inventory with a variety of new anti-ship missiles capable of being launched from submarines, ships, coastal batteries and fighter aircraft. The effort is part of a long-term strategy to place Chinese naval vessels and coastal facilities under the gun.
The strategy is in response to China’s threat to invade Taiwan if it continues ignoring Beijing’s call for unification.
Taiwan’s Navy is modifying two Hai Lung (Sea Dragon) diesel submarines to handle 32 UGM-84L Harpoon anti-ship missiles sold by the U.S. in 2008 for $200 million, local defense industry and MND sources said. The work is being conducted in southern Taiwan at Tsoying Naval Base, Kaohsiung.
Taiwan’s 256th Submarine Squadron has only two operational submarines, procured from the Netherlands in the 1980s. Each submarine can carry 28 torpedoes or missiles.
Taiwan has two World War II-era Guppy diesel submarines, but they are used only for training.
Before this program, the Dutch-built submarines were unable to handle sub-launched anti-ship missiles, despite incorrect media reports that the Sea Dragons were capable of launching the older, locally built Hsiung Feng 2 anti-ship missile.
The new capability will allow Taiwan’s Navy to project force farther north and south along China’s coastline, threatening naval ports at Hainan Island, Sandu, Shantou and Xiazhen.
However, Taiwan’s submarine force is more about deterrence than power projection, said Bob Nugent, vice president, AMI International DC Operations.
“PLAN [Chinese Navy] knowledge that a Harpoon-equipped sub threat could be positioned just outside key ports and harbors complicates both their strategic calculus and operational planning for naval operations outside the Straits,” he said.
Taiwan also has shore-based Hsiung Feng 2 anti-ship missiles along the west coast facing China, and air-launched and surface-ship launched Harpoon missiles, some with coastal suppression systems capable of hitting land targets along China’s coast.
However, shore batteries, ship-launched and air-launched anti-ship missiles are vulnerable to Chinese missile strikes, yet China’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities are very weak, thus giving Taiwan submarines a fighting chance during a war, said Andrew Erickson, a China defense analyst at the U.S. Naval War College.
“Especially so in the anti-surface warfare role as the PLAN begins to field key large ships — high-value units, such as carriers and large deck amphibs (Type 071 and Type 081) — which would be the most vulnerable to sub-launched Harpoons,” Nugent said.