Taiwan’s new HF-3 supersonic anti-ship missiles will join U.S.-made Harpoon missiles to turn the Taiwan Strait into a death trap for invading warships.
It is the near future.
A large formation of Chinese strike aircraft suddenly swerves to start an attack run on Taiwan’s first line of defense — its radar installations.
As dozens of anti-aircraft missiles rise up from Taiwan, the country’s $1.2 billion PAVE PAWS radar installation on Leshan Mountain senses hundreds of ballistic missiles launching in China. Its staff feverishly work to alert Taiwan while feeding interception data to the nation’s anti-missile batteries.
The massive facility sits on a mountaintop and its staff know they have only seconds before the first hypersonic missiles hit.
As radar stations start to go silent, reports come in that Chinese military ships are suddenly launching from ports and converging from staged patrol positions. Following the protocols they practiced over years, Taiwan’s warships scramble their crews and power out toward the centerline of the Taiwan Strait.
As they race to meet a wall of Chinese warships head on, the Taiwanese crews start to prime one of the primary weapons of Taiwan’s navy, the supersonic Hsiung Feng III anti-ship cruise missile.
At the same time, hundreds of trucks carrying Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) missiles in their large launcher boxes are dispersed on Taiwan’s road system. Soon, hundreds of these potent ship-killer missiles are screaming across the Taiwan Strait at supersonic speeds.
The Hsiung Feng III missile is a supersonic missile that can reportedly cruise at speeds of up to Mach 3. First deployed in 2010, it was designed to counter the growing threat of an increasing number of Chinese surface ships fitted with modernized defense systems.
When fired, the missile is shot out of its launcher by its solid-fuel first stage rocket and two strap-on solid-fuel booster rockets. The missile passes Mach 1 speed within seconds, which is when the two boosters fall away and the missile’s liquid-fuel ramjet kicks in, allowing it to cruise at supersonic speed for up to 150 kilometers. To enable the ramjet to suck air in, the missile has four distinctive air inlet ducts spaced around its rear exterior.
The National Interest reports that Taiwan will start mass producing an extended-range version of the missile in 2023. These would be able to strike targets up to 400 kilometers away. Taipei did not disclose how many of these long-range versions would be produced, but on paper such missiles can be hidden on Taiwan’s eastern coastline, where the mountains of Taiwan would protect them from initial missile strikes coming from the west. A barrage of these missiles could then be launched, skimming the mountain valleys of Taiwan, before attacking targets on the Taiwan Strait and beyond.
The producer of the HF-3, Taiwan’s National Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology, says the missile’s integrated rocket ramjet design allowed it to create a weapon that is not only fast but also small enough and light enough to be deployed easily by highly mobile units like trucks and small patrol boats.
Once in the air, the missile uses an inertial navigation system with an active radar seeker to home in on its target. When it gets close, an array of electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) kicks in to protect the missile against the enemy fleet’s anti-missile defense systems.
The institute says the missiles are designed to drop down and skim the ocean’s surface on its final attack run. This sea-skimming capability combines with its supersonic speed to reduce the response time available to the enemy’s defense systems.
When it hits the enemy ship, the warhead is designed to penetrate the ship’s hull before a smart fuse detonates the large warhead, reported by the Missile Threat website to contain as much as 225 kilograms of high explosives in a self-forging fragmentation package.
The institute says the warhead section features an “optimized design casing, dynamite fuse and related relay devices” that allow it to detonate at an optimal position inside the ship, thereby maximizing the destruction caused to the ship.
The Missile Threat website cites IHS Jane’s Weapons as saying that the HF-3’s warhead is equipped with a smart fuse designed to direct most of the explosive energy downward once it has detected that the missile is inside the target ship’s hull, greatly increasing the damage caused.
Although Taiwan’s military did not disclose how many HF-3 missiles it currently has, Forbes reported that Taipei announced in May 2021 that it would buy 400 new ground-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Boeing, bringing Taiwan’s total number of anti-ship missiles to 1,200. The remaining 800 anti-ship missiles would be made up of Taiwan-made Hsiung Feng II and Hsiung Feng III missiles, as well as the country’s stockpile of older Harpoon models.