Taiwan’s new Yun Feng supersonic cruise missile is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. With a range of 2,000 kilometers, the missile can reach deep inside China, which means it greatly affects Beijing’s risk calculations.
Taiwan has always wanted to make sure China knows that it has the weapons and the willpower to cause massive damage to the Chinese war machine, if the latter makes the mistake of trying to invade Taiwan.
In the Taiwan-China conflict it is even more important to scare your opponent into not fighting, than the actual fight itself. That’s because the fight itself will be expensive and bloody for both sides.
The current war in Ukraine serves as an illustration to China how expensive a war with a much smaller country can become, especially if the smaller country has high-tech missiles. When a large military attacks a small area, bottlenecks are created, and missiles love bottlenecks.
That’s why Taiwan’s military has been actively working to get more money from lawmakers to buy ever more advanced missile systems. In May 2021, for instance, Taipei announced that it would spend a whopping $2.4 billion to buy 400 new Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Boeing.
1,200 ship-killer missiles
These upgraded Block II Harpoons can attack ships up to 160 kilometers away, and the 400 number was aimed at increasing the total number of Taiwan’s ship-killer missiles to 1,200 — which is the number that Taiwan’s military believes would be enough to cripple the Chinese fleet and prevent a takeover of Taiwan.
Of course, having 1,200 high-tech ship-killer missiles would go a long way to make Taiwan the “indigestible porcupine” that the government says it wants the country to be, in a military sense.
Alongside these anti-ship missiles, Taiwan also fields four types of missiles designed to attack land targets in China. Each of these missile types have different ranges, and one is designed to be launched from attack jets.
Taiwan never reveals exactly how many of each of its home-grown missile types it is producing. It keeps the enemy guessing, forcing it to plan for many different scenarios. Each of these scenarios have to assume a different number of each missile type being fielded by Taiwan.
The long-range missile
However, when Taiwan announced in August of 2019 that it had started production of a controversial long-range supersonic cruise missile, the Yun Feng (雲峰), everyone started getting nervous. The Missile Threat website reports that the Yun Feng, or Cloud Peak, has a range of 2,000 kilometers, which means it can easily strike targets in the north of China, including Beijing.
This puts the Yun Feng in a very different class than all the other cruise missiles that Taiwan fields. All the other missiles are designed to destroy ships in the Taiwan Strait, or hit land targets on China’s eastern seaboard. But the Yun Feng is a missile designed to hit targets 1,400 kilometers farther away than Taiwan’s second-longest reacher, the Hsiung Feng IIE, which has a range of only 600 kilometers.
By making such a great leap into China’s hinterland, some would say that such a missile sends a clear message to the Chinese leadership that an invasion of Taiwan would not be contained to some faraway shore. It implies that the aggressor’s capitol city would experience the same horrors it might try to inflict on others.
Of course, it is unlikely that Taiwan would use the missile in a first strike scenario, which means that it is more of a defensive deterrent than it is an offensive threat. However, Missile Threat reports that the Yun Feng’s extended range has made it controversial among Taiwan analysts, who caution that the missile is inappropriate given Taiwan’s defensive posture and China’s advanced air defense capabilities, and could negatively impact Taiwan’s relations with the U.S.
For these reasons Taiwan, the U.S. and even China choose to downplay the missile’s capabilities most of the time. Yet, sometimes Taiwan does let slip the possibility that it does have a sizable arsenal of the missile’s extended-range version. Just to put it out there.