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Missile developments could shape status quo in Taiwan Strait

Augmented ballistic defenses and US missile system along first island chain could improve Taiwan’s security

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Taiwanese military drill simulating defense against attack from China. (Internet image)

Taiwanese military drill simulating defense against attack from China. (Internet image)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — Exactly how many missiles communist China is aiming at Taiwan while you read this is a question no one can answer with certainty.

Estimates range from 1,500 to over 2,600, and it could be a whole lot more. Imagine, in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, that these missiles form part of a first wave.

As Ian Easton explains in his superb book, "The Chinese Invasion Threat," phase one of an invasion would be built around a blockade and a bombing campaign to try and cut off Taiwan from the world. This would disable critical infrastructure, military defenses, and undermine morale.

Chinese missiles would do much of the dirty work, and it is not only Taiwan that these missiles pose a threat to. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies missile threat project, China has the “most active and diverse missile program in the world” and possesses missiles more than capable of reaching mainland Europe and the U.S. homeland.

Experts concur that while the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has plenty of hardware, it is currently lacking the manpower, the skills, and the communications infrastructure to make a Taiwan invasion feasible at the moment.

But this is not going to be the case forever, which is why it is so important for Taiwan and its allies to build robust weapons systems capable of deterring China from attempting an invasion. Also, if need be, defending Taiwan in the event it takes place.

Sinking feeling

A Forbes report suggested this week that Taiwan is aiming to develop or acquire enough anti-ship missiles to sink at least half of any Chinese invasion fleet.

In spring 2020, it was announced that Taiwan would be spending US$2.4 billion to purchase 400 Boeing Harpoon missiles. These are ground-launched, have a 160 km range, and would be fired by 100 truck-mounted quad-launchers supported by 25 mobile radars.

As we reported last week, the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, has called for such arms sales to continue. Taiwan is also planning to manufacture more of its own domestically produced missiles.

Last month, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) instructed the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) to speed up production of the Sky Bow III (Tien Kung III), a surface-to-air anti-ballistic missile, and the Hsiung Feng III, a supersonic missile that can destroy both land and naval targets.

These and the new Harpoon missiles (which may not arrive until 2025) are part of a diverse missile arsenal that also includes the Stinger, Chaparral, Patriot, Tien Chien, and Tien Kung surface-to-air missiles, as well as the Javelin, TOW, and Hellfire anti-tank missiles, Wan Chien air-launched cruise missiles, and Yun Feng ground-launched cruise missiles.

Supersonic

Of these, the Yun Feng is an interesting one. Also developed at the NCSIST, it can travel at supersonic speeds, carries a 227 kilogram warhead, with a range of 1,600 km, and is capable of hitting PLA bases as far away as Shanghai or Beijing.

This is important because it means that China cannot be confident it could keep a conflict confined to the Taiwan Strait alone. An invasion would mean collateral damage in China, potentially very serious damage.

But perhaps the most encouraging missile development is the recent news that the U.S. wants to station missiles of its own all along the first island chain, from Japan to the Philippines and including Taiwan. As we reported last week, the plan would be part of a “Pacific Deterrence Initiative” proposed by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

It is intended to “dispense and sustain combat operations for extended periods.” What that essentially means is that the U.S. military sees such a missile network as the best way to defend its interests in the region and prevent China from expanding any further into the South China Sea, and indeed into Taiwan.

Sleep better

Such a move would be a huge step in U.S.-Taiwan relations and make the island country far more secure from the threat of invasion than it currently is.

The Pacific Deterrence Initiative is just a proposal at this stage, but the Indo-Pacific Command has warned the balance of power in the region could have shifted sufficiently for China to change the status quo in as little as six years.

The window of opportunity is now, and while such a missile system would be expensive, it would certainly be in the U.S.’ best interest. It would absolutely be in Taiwan’s best interest as well, and the government should be urging its American allies to take this step.

Most people in Taiwan sleep okay despite knowing about the phalanx of Chinese missiles aimed at their country. But they would sleep a whole lot better knowing there were U.S. missiles standing alongside Taiwan’s own arsenal ready to defend them.


Updated : 2021-04-10 19:37 GMT+08:00