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China's Liaoning could be as vulnerable as Russia's Moskva to Taiwan's missiles

Aircraft carriers built at same shipyard, expert says Taiwan's anti-ship arsenal superior to Ukraine

China's Liaoning aircraft carrier. 

China's Liaoning aircraft carrier.  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China's Liaoning aircraft carrier, which was built in the same shipyard as Russia's flagship, the Moskva, could be equally vulnerable to Taiwan's anti-ship missiles, while a military expert says Taiwan's anti-ship missile arsenal is superior to Ukraine's.

A Nikkei Asia report claims Chinese defense officials have been rattled by the sinking of the Russian cruiser Moskva with what Ukraine said were two of its R-360 Neptune anti-ship missiles — although Russia claims the disaster was caused by an internal fire. The news agency cited a Chinese source as saying that if it is true the Ukrainian missiles sank the Russian flagship, "It means that China's much-vaunted naval power is nothing but a paper tiger."

The reason for concern in the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA) is that much of China's weaponry is based on Soviet-era technology. The Liaoning is no exception as it was an aircraft carrier that was constructed in the final years of the Soviet Union in the Black Sea Shipyard Mykolaiv, in modern-day Ukraine.

The Soviets named the unfinished heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser the Varyag, but it as well as two other carriers, the Kiev and the Minsk, were placed in mothballs when the Soviet Union collapsed. China eventually acquired all three, but only utilized the Varyag for military purposes and renamed it the Liaoning.

The article pointed out that given the armor and missile defense systems of the Liaoning are similar to the Moskva "the sinking of the Moskva will only make Chinese leaders fret over its vulnerability to incoming advanced missiles."

Although the Liaoning regularly patrols the Taiwan Strait, in the event China launches a war on Taiwan, Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平), chairman of the Central Military Commission, may hesitate to deploy the Liaoning to avoid a similar humiliating fate as the Moskva.

China may not be much better off dispatching its second carrier, the Shandong, as it is essentially based on the same design as the Liaoning. In fact, any warship China positions near Taiwan could be vulnerable to Taiwan's anti-ship missiles, which include the Hsiung Feng II, Hsiung Feng III, extended-range Hsiung Feng III, and US.-made Harpoon missiles.

Defense International magazine news editor Chen Kuo-ming (陳國銘) was cited by Liberty Times as saying that Taiwan has a bigger and more powerful anti-ship missile arsenal than Ukraine, including the Hsiung Feng series. If the PLA tries to invade Taiwan, Chen pointed out that it must send large warships to escort its amphibious fleet, putting them in range of Taiwan's anti-ship missiles, which have a range that encompasses the entire Taiwan Strait.

Chen said that Taiwan's armed forces are moving in the right direction by deploying anti-ship missiles on multiple mobile launchers. Chen suggested that miniaturizing the Hsiung Feng II and mounting it on fighter jets to increase tactical flexibility is worthy of military research.