By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard
TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan is developing missiles that can attack enemy air bases and bring down cruise missiles, and drones that can target their firing locations, according to a report by the military-owned body making the weapons.
Taiwan last year approved T$240 billion ($8.20 billion) in extra military spending over the next five years as tensions with China, which claims the island as its own territory, have hit a new high and Chinese military planes have repeatedly flown through Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.
Taiwan plans to more than double its yearly missile production capacity to close to 500 this year, the island’s defence ministry said last month, as it boosts its combat power.
In a report to parliament this week, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, the military-owned National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology offered more details of what the missiles and drones it is developing could do in a war.
The Hsiung Sheng land-attack missile, which experts say could have a range of up to 1,000km – comes in two versions: one with a high-explosive warhead to hit bunkers and hardened command centres, and other with “dispersal” munitions to take out airfield facilities, it said.
Chieh Chung, a researcher at Taipei-based National Policy Foundation, said the Hsiung Sheng could reach most bases under the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command, including those near Shanghai and the province of Zhejiang.
“It could greatly boost the national army’s capacity to delay or paralyse the Communist forces’ pace of an invasion of Taiwan, making it hard for them to achieve a rapid war,” he said.
The advanced Sky Bow III surface-to-air missile is designed to take down ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as fighter jets.
Taiwan’s plans predate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the war has prompted conversations about the lessons Taiwan could apply to fighting off a Chinese attack, including how Ukraine has resisted a numerically-superior force.
One Taiwan-based Western security source told Reuters that although Taiwan was getting gear such as Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the United States, its own missile programme would help ensure the island would not have to rely on foreign supplies, as Ukraine has.
“It’s a hedging strategy,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The institute said drones, which Ukraine has used to great effect against Russia’s military, could attack enemy missile launch sites or act as decoys to help pinpoint enemy radars.
Four new facilities, including bases and repair plants, would be built by 2025 for the new drones, it said.
The defence ministry has previously announced plans to start manufacturing unspecified “attack drones” with an annual production target of 48 such aircraft.
Little has been disclosed about the domestically produced drones. The first batch of U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper drones, which can be armed with missiles and operate at long range, will enter service with Taiwan by 2025, the defence ministry said last month.
About 64% of Taiwan’s extra military spending, which came on top of planned military spending of T$471.7 billion for 2022, will be spent on anti-ship weapons such as land-based missile systems, including a T$148.9 billion plan to mass-produce homegrown missiles and “high-performance” ships.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made modernising the military a top priority, pushing for defence projects including a new class of stealthy warship and home-grown submarines.
Tsai has championed what she calls “asymmetric warfare”: developing high-tech, highly mobile weapons that are hard to destroy and can deliver precision attacks.
Taiwan believes China has thousands of missiles aimed at its territory, and Chinese forces dwarf those of Taiwan’s. China also has nuclear weapons, which Taiwan does not.
China has never ruled out the use of force to bring the democratic island under its control.
($1 = 29.2790 Taiwan dollars)
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)