In order to deter China from invading Taiwan, the island nation is investing billions of dollars to develop and build a range of sophisticated missiles, drones and kamikaze drones that are designed to find and destroy ships, radar systems and airplanes around Taiwan, as well as attacking ground targets in places as far away as northern China.
High-level Taiwanese officials told Taiwan’s Liberty Times last week that the nation’s government-run arms manufacturer, the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), has increased missile production from 500 to 800 last year, and will reach the full yearly production target of 1,000 missiles this year.
The NCSIST recently jumped to the 60th place on the list of largest arms manufacturers in the world, as compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) by producing $2 billion worth of weapons in 2022. It is likely to rise much higher on the list this year, with its total operating income estimated to reach NT$120 billion (around $4 billion) in 2023.
This sudden increase in sales correlates with Taiwan’s recent increase in spending on smart, high-precision weapons that can attack enemy systems over long distances. This renewed urgency was forced on Taiwan by China’s massive buildup of weapons aimed at Taiwan, coupled with a sudden increase in Chinese aggression toward Taiwan over the past year. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also played a big role to illustrate the need for preparing for a possible invasion, as Taiwan is an island and can not be supplied by its allies once an invasion has started.
Taiwan’s military believes that, in addition to anti-air and ground-attack missiles, it needs around 1,200 anti-ship missiles to deter a Chinese invasion. To fill in the temporary gaps in its arsenal, Taipei announced in May 2021 that it would spend a whopping $2.4 billion to buy 400 new Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Boeing. 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 the target of 1,200.
However, due to long delays in the U.S.’ weapons delivery schedule, it is currently unclear when the bulk of these Harpoons will be delivered to Taiwan. This uncertainty increases the importance of the NCSIST’s ability to increase the production of its own ship-killer missiles.
One of the most potent of these Taiwan-made ship killers is the Hsiung Feng III (HF-3, 雄風三型) — a supersonic missile that can reportedly cruise at speeds of up to Mach 3. When fired, the missile is shot out of its truck or ship-based launcher by its solid-fuel first stage rocket and two strap-on solid-fuel booster rockets. It reaches Mach 1 speed within seconds, at which stage 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. The National Interest recently reported that Taiwan will start mass producing an extended-range version of the powerful missile in 2023, increasing its kill range from 150 to 400 kilometers.
In August of 2019, Taiwan announced that it had started production of a controversial long-range supersonic cruise missile, the Yun Feng (雲峰). The Missile Threat website reports that the Yun Feng, or Cloud Peak, could have a range of 2,000 kilometers, which would make it capable of striking targets in the north of China, including Beijing. The missile is controversial because it is aimed at defending Taiwan by threatening China’s leadership in Beijing, which makes it different from Taiwan’s other weapons, which are much more defensive in nature.
Taiwan is also producing a number of other long-range precision weapons. These include the HF-2 anti-ship missile that has a range of 120 kilometers, and the HF-2E cruise missile that has a range of 600 kilometers and is designed to attack land targets on China’s eastern seaboard.
The Tien Chi (天戟) is a Taiwan-built short-range ballistic missile that can deliver a big warhead up to 120 kilometers away, which makes it more suitable for launching from Taiwan’s frontline islands that lie just a few kilometers from China’s eastern coastline. Another of Taiwan’s high-tech missiles is the Wan Chien cruise missile, which is designed to be launched from airplanes and can attack targets up to 240 kilometers away.
Taiwan is also building kamikaze drones like the Chien Hsiang (劍翔, “Rising Sword”). The official name for this kind of drone is “loitering munition.” It’s basically a flying smart bomb with radiation-detection systems, wings and a small propeller that cruises at 185 kilometers per hour on a pre-programmed flight pattern. Fitted with radar-homing technology, its role is to loiter over the warzone and look for targets. Once it senses radar energy coming from the right kind of target — like a Chinese warship, radar installation or Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft battery — it locks on and drops down on to the target, detonating its sizable warhead on impact.