Taiwan to fire up missile programme as Tsai puts focus on asymmetric warfare against mainland China

Lawrence Chung

Taiwan is expected to step up the development of missiles able to strike mainland China in the face of growing military threats by Beijing.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen vowed during her inaugural speech on Wednesday to bolster the self-ruled island’s defences by emphasising the development of asymmetrical warfare, apparently foreseeing bumpy cross-strait ties in her next four years in office.

In asymmetrical warfare, one side uses non-traditional weapons against a more powerful enemy. Analysts said a boost to Taiwan’s missile programme would mean the island could brace for the mainland’s first advance before the United States came to its rescue.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen wants to put more emphasis on asymmetrical warfare. Photo: Reuters

“Weapons listed in this [asymmetrical warfare] category include missiles, torpedoes, unmanned aerial and navy drones and cyberweaponry. But missiles are by far the most effective to strike and intimidate the enemy,” said Chieh Chung, senior researcher of national security at Taipei-based National Policy Foundation, a think tank of the opposition Kuomintang party.

He said it was not surprising that Taiwan wanted to step up its missile development programme to ensure it had the necessary ability to strike should a cross-strait conflict erupt, given that the mainland’s People’s Liberation Army was a much bigger power and Taiwan had a limited military budget to stage an arms race with Beijing.

In his annual government work report on Friday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for the resolute rejection of separatist activities seeking Taiwan’s independence and a deepening of ties across the Taiwan Strait towards the goal of peaceful reunification.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. It has suspended official exchanges with Taiwan and staged numerous war games close to the island to try to force Tsai to accept the one-China principle, which she has rejected since first being elected as president in 2016.

Taiwan is putting its focus on asymmetrical warfare in the face of China’s People’s Liberation Army. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing has also warned other countries against supplying arms to Taiwan, making it difficult for the island to acquire weapons.

Taiwan’s National Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology – known as the cradle of the island’s missile development – has worked with the military since the 1970s to develop short and medium-range missiles.

In an inspection of the institute in January, Tsai asked the defence ministry and the institute to accelerate plans for mass production of the improved version of the Tien Kung-3 and the supersonic Hsiung Feng-3 missiles to bolster Taiwan’s defensive capabilities.

Last month, the institute test-fired missiles, including the Tien Kung-3 and a land-attack missile capable of striking targets on the mainland.

According to local news media, the Tien Kung-3 surface-to-air missile and medium-range Yun Feng land-attack cruise missile were tested between April 5 and April 23 at the Jiupeng military base in Pingtung, the southernmost part of Taiwan.

The institute declined to comment on the tests, but last month made public the testing dates while warning ships and planes against approaching the announced firing zone.

Local news media said the latest version of the ship-based Tien Kung-3 was test-fired on April 9-10.

The supersonic Hsiung Feng-3 ship-to-ship missile. Photo: AFP

Its development was first revealed by legislators during a budget review session in 2014. The missile was listed as one of the 10 indigenous arms development items in the NT$7.02 billion (US$233 million) Chiang Kung – or Enhanced Bow – project. It is expected to go into mass production next year, according to the local Liberty Times.

Chang Cheng, a retired engineer who led development of the Hsiung Feng-3 missiles at the institute, said the Tien Kung-3 firing range had been boosted from about 45km (28 miles) to about 70km, allowing it to intercept the PLA’s guided missile.

But it would be “wrong for some news reports to assume that it is able to intercept the mainland’s Dongfeng ballistic or intercontinental missiles ”, he said.

China has suspended official exchanges with Taiwan and staged numerous war games close to the island. Photo: EPA-EFE

The institute also test-fired the Yun Feng – or Cloud Peak – on April 14-15 at the Jiupeng base, according to United Daily News.

Local military experts said the supersonic land-attack cruise missile had a range of 1,500km, making it capable of striking targets in inner China, including Beijing, Tianjin in China’s north, Nanjing in eastern Jiangsu province, Shanghai in the east and Wuhan, Changsha and the Three Gorges Dam in central China.

The Yun Feng is fitted with a ramjet engine and can carry a semi-armour-piercing high explosive and fragmentation warhead, the experts said.

The institute has remained tight-lipped about development of the missile which is expected to be rolled out for production at the end of this year.

Reports of the Yun Feng’s development first surfaced in December 2012, but the programme has been under way since the post-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, when Beijing staged missile tests near Taiwan to try to warn then president Lee Teng-hui against promoting independence.

The development, which has spanned the tenures of four presidents – from Lee, to Chen Shui-bian, Ma Ying-jeou and Tsai – had been shrouded in secrecy because of US concern that it might prompt an angry action by Beijing.

Su Tzu-yun, a senior analyst at the Institute for National Defence and Security Research, a government think tank, said the Yun Feng could be deployed to weaken mainland China’s combat capability.

“The weapon is believed to be able to attack strategic targets, including airports, harbours and military command bases in central China,” he said, adding the missile formed an important part of Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare.

The PLA Air Force was considered the biggest threat to Taiwan and if the mainland’s airbases could be destroyed, Taiwan would have a better chance of defending itself, he said.

Tung Li-wen, a researcher at the pro-government Taiwan think tank, said the Hsiung Feng-2E’s upgraded firing range of 1,000km was already long enough to threaten the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta.

“These are China’s two major economic zones and any attack would paralyse their operations,” he noted.

The upgraded subsonic, land-attack cruise missile – first mass-produced in 2009 – was test-fired on May 14-15, according to news reports.

Other operational missiles developed by the institute include the 120km range Tien Chien air-to-air missile, Hsiung Feng 1, 2, 3 subsonic anti-ship missiles, and 240km range air-to-ground Wan Chien subsonic cruise missile.

Sign up now and get a 10% discount (original price US$400) off the China AI Report 2020 by SCMP Research. Learn about the AI ambitions of Alibaba, Baidu & JD.com through our in-depth case studies, and explore new applications of AI across industries. The report also includes exclusive access to webinars to interact with C-level executives from leading China AI companies (via live Q&A sessions). Offer valid until 31 May 2020.

More from South China Morning Post:

This article Taiwan to fire up missile programme as Tsai puts focus on asymmetric warfare against mainland China first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.