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Chinese chopper perfect target for Taiwan's 'aircraft carrier killer'

Chinese state media report overlooks Taiwanese indigenous corvette's Sky Sword II anti-aircraft missiles

Harbin Z-9 helicopter.

Harbin Z-9 helicopter. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese state media on Wednesday (Dec. 16) claimed that its Z-9 helicopter can sink Taiwan's newly launched "aircraft carrier killer" corvette, but it failed to mention the chopper's vulnerabilities to the stealth ship.

During a ceremony at Lungteh Shipyard in Yilan's Su-ao Township on Tuesday (Dec. 15), President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) presided over the launch of Taiwan's first domestically built guided-missile corvette. The Tuo Chiang-class warship, christened the Ta Chiang (塔江), has been nicknamed the "aircraft carrier killer" (航母殺手) due to its armaments of subsonic Hsiung Feng II (HF-2) anti-ship missiles and supersonic Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) medium-range missiles.

In response, Chinese state-run mouthpiece the Global Times on Wednesday described the new corvette as a "target of PLA aircraft." It claimed the Harbin Z-9, which is the Chinese clone of the French-built Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin, is "very suitable" for countering "small ships" such as the Ta Chiang.

The Beijing-based tabloid then cited "military expert" Song Zhongping as calling the corvette a "small ship with strong firepower" but claimed it could not take out a Chinese carrier. He theorized that Taiwan's Navy could try to use the ship to fire missiles at People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships from outside China's air defense zone, but he bragged that China could counter-attack with aircraft before the corvette could lock its missiles onto any targets.

Song claimed that because China's aircraft carriers carry a large number of fighter jets, the corvettes will have "zero possibility of survival." He alleged that the corvette's weakness is that it has too many weapons for its displacement.

What the article failed to mention is that Chinese aircraft would struggle to find the corvette in time to prevent it from launching its missiles, as the ship possesses advanced stealth technologies and low radar cross section (RCS) to evade radar detection. The author then cited "analysts" purporting that the corvette "cannot carry radar advanced enough to effectively spot targets and guide the missiles."

In fact, the guided-missile corvette comes equipped with surface search radar and fire control radar, and an electronic warfare suite that includes an early warning system and electronic countermeasures for incoming missiles.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) voice box cited the PLA China Sea Fleet as announcing that it had used Z-9 helicopters to carry out a live-fire drill with anti-ship missiles in the South China Sea on Friday (Dec. 11). It also pointed to an episode of China Central Television's "Weihutang," which claimed that while helicopters can "only carry limited ammunition," their armaments are sufficient to attack small ships.

Referring to the conclusion of the "analysts," the author described the corvette as a "target candidate" for the Z-9. It added that China's Type 075 amphibious assault ships have been conducting tests in the South China Sea near Taiwan and that these vessels can carry "dozens of helicopters" that can be used in a "reunification-by-force operation," according to unnamed analysts.

The article also overlooked the fact that the Taiwan-built corvette comes stocked with Sky Sword II (天劍二, Tien Chien II) anti-aircraft missiles which have a maximum speed of Mach 6, while the Z-9 can only muster a maximum speed of 305 kilometers per hour, making it the ideal target for the stealthy ship. The corvettes also boast the Phalanx Close-in Weapons System (CIWS), which is designed to neutralize helicopters and anti-ship missiles.

In addition, six of the ships will be available for combat by 2023, with another five in the works after that. The ships will enhance Taiwan's asymmetric warfare capabilities, as their modern catamaran design enables them to reach a top speed of 43 knots (80 kilometers per hour), while China's aircraft carriers can only lumber along at about 30 knots.