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BMD Focus: The Missiles Of Taiwan

By Martin Sieff, UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jan 19, 2006
Taiwan's decision to produce no less than 500 cruise missiles capable of threatening southern China dramatically escalates its missile arms race with the People's Republic of China and may tempt China toward taking preemptive military action in the 2008-2010 period.

As previously reported in our companion BMD Watch column, the respected British journal Jane's Defense Weekly reported earlier this month that Taiwan has highly ambitiously plans produce at least 50 of its own Hsiung Feng, or Brave Wind, 2E cruise missiles by 2010 and eventually it plans to produce and deploy no less than 500 of them. The Taiwanese Defense Ministry has stayed silent on the report. It strikingly has not denied it.

JDW also reported that Taiwan has already home-produced three prototypes of the weapon.

This single report should sound alarms in the Pentagon and for defense strategists and governments in the United States and throughout East Asia and the Pacific Rim. For it is the clearest signal yet that a possible military confrontation between Taiwan and Mainland China that could easily drag in the United States may now be only a matter of time.

Even with only conventional warheads, a massive cruise missile force deployed on Taiwan could pose a very serious national security threat to China: The reported 360-mile range of the Hsiung Feng would put the Hong Kong and Shanghai, the financial hub of China, within its range.

Also, Taiwan's cruise missile force might not stay merely conventionally armed. Taiwan's advanced industrial economy already has nuclear reactors and, like Japan, South Korea and many other advanced industrial nations, Taiwan has capability to develop its own nuclear weaponry probably within only a few months if its leaders thought it faced an overwhelming national emergency

Furthermore, although cruise missiles are far slower than ballistic missiles, they can be far harder for state-of-the-art anti-ballistic missile interceptors to shoot down. Cruise missiles are programmed to hug the ground and regularly change course by hugging the contours of the landscape. This means it is vastly more difficult, if not impossible for ground-based radar systems to lock on to them.

Israel's superb Arrow ABM interceptor for example, last year successfully shot down an intermediate range ballistic missile configured to fly like an Iranian Shahib-3. But Israel would have to rely on its air force aircraft -- qualitatively about the best in the world -- and airborne AWACS radar aircraft to detect and shoot down any of the dozen cruise missiles that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has acknowledged were secretly sold to Iran under the regime of his predecessor Leonid Kuchma.

Also, it is far easier to hide cruise missiles or to make them road mobile than it is for much larger ballistic missiles. They are far smaller and easier to handle.

The forerunner of the cruise missile, the German V-1, or Flying Bomb, showed this capability in 1944. Enormous massed bombing raids by Britain's Royal Air Force Bomber Command and the U.S. Eighth Air Force were unable prevent the Luftwaffe from running up new launching ramps for them to bombard London within a matter of hours. Modern cruise missiles are equally easy and flexible in their launching requirements. And Jane's reported that the Hsiung Fengs are already designed to be mobile.'

That means that if Taiwan builds and deploys a nuclear-capable cruise missile force of even 50 weapons as it plans to do by 2010 -- let alone the huge 500-weapon force it ultimately envisages -- China would almost certainly react by planning an overwhelming preemptive strike by the enormous force of 700 ballistic missiles it has already assembled to threaten Taiwan and deter the United States from operating its nuclear aircraft carrier strike forces in the Taiwan Strait.

If China did that, Taiwan in turn would most likely respond by putting its own cruise missile force on hair trigger alert. Consequently, the dangers of a full-scale missile war being set off by miscalculation, or at a far earlier stage in any crisis, would be greatly increased.

Taiwan even has plans to improve on the current Hsuing-Feng design to give later models a range of 600 miles. The island's military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, the developer of the cruise missile, is planning to extend its range to 600 miles, JDW said.

However, "This would require the acquisition of specialized engine components from the United States that Washington has so far refused to allow, perhaps linked to provisions under the Missile Technology Control Regime, Jane's said.

The cruise missile program appears designed to become the centerpiece of Taiwan's "active defense" policy, which aims to counter any aggression before it reaches Taiwanese territory, JDW said.

However, the problem with that kind of "active defense" is that it could instead rapidly provoke the kind of "active attack" it is meant to prevent. Would China sit back and allow Taiwan to effectively guarantee its perpetual de facto independence for the foreseeable future by deploying the kind of missile capability that, it could be argued, would be comparable to the one the Soviet Union tried to place in Cuba in the early 1960s to threaten the United States from close at hand?

President John F, Kennedy did not sit back and allow the Soviets and their communist Cuban allies. Instead, he risked a full-scale nuclear war in the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 to force the withdrawal of the missiles. Will China's President Hu Jintao go as far as JFK did in dealing with the missiles of Taiwan? Or might he even go further?

Source: United Press International

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