Revelations in last Sunday's China Times that Taiwan has tested a 1,000km-range capable land attack cruise missile (LACM) proves an axiom: China's military buildup will not stop an Asian defensive response. Taiwan is merely joining a list of other countries, which so far include India and South Korea, in developing their own capabilities in response to China's deployment or proliferation of missile or nuclear weapon technologies.
Compared to Beijing's mounting ballistic and cruise missile threat, Taipei's missile development programs are miniscule. Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense claims China now targets over 700 DF-15 and DF-11 class short-range ballistic missiles at Taiwan, a number that will exceed 800 next year. By the end of this year, China's new class of LACM could reach 200 deployed. At this rate, by 2010 China could have up to 2,000 ballistic and cruise missiles pointed at Taiwan. And as they are all road or rail mobile, if they are not used against Taiwan, they could be rapidly re-targeted against Korea, Japan, Vietnam, India or Russia.
For Taiwan, China's growing missile threat requires a different calculus to achieve "defense."
Buying ever greater numbers of missile defenses like the US PAC-2 and PAC-3 systems is financially prohibitive, and next-generation energy-based weapons like lasers, which could "fire" thousands of rounds for the cost of electricity, will not be available until later in the next decade. The only affordable near-term alternative is to develop "offensive" systems to target Chinese military capabilities and contribute to deterrence.
For example, if Taiwanese missiles were able to destroy most Chinese forces massing for an invasion, then Taipei could probably survive Beijing's missile and air attacks, meaning Taiwan would "win" the war. As the regime in Beijing would likely not survive such failure, not to mention the global economic embargoes and decades of political ignominy to follow, "offensive" Taiwanese missiles could achieve decisive deterrence.
Taiwan's missile effort remains tightly guarded, but open reports note Taiwan's ability to convert its Sky Bow anti-aircraft missile into a multi-stage ballistic missile, while the Hsiung Feng II-E, a 1,000km-range LACM, is reported to have just completed a successful test. Taiwan has also tested the 300km-range Hsiung Feng III, a supersonic ramjet-powered anti-ship missile.
Of these, only the latter is said to be nearly ready for production. But the reality of China's growing missile, air-strike, naval-blockade and airborne/amphibious invasion capabilities requires that Taiwan intensify its missile programs, especially when considering China's increasing ability to impede or prevent US and Japanese military forces from reaching Taiwan.
Other countries long ago started developing missile and other weapons to defend against Chinese nuclear missiles and their proliferation. India's robust ballistic missile, cruise missile and submarine-launched missile programs are designed to deter Chinese weapons deployed on two fronts: those in China that could be targeted against India, and the Chinese-designed nuclear-armed missiles "manufactured" by Pakistan.
India is also interested in missile defenses, which are being encouraged by Washington. South Korea and Japan face a significant North Korean nuclear weapons threat, which was made possible with discreet Chinese support. Seoul is a reluctant and recent investor in missile defenses, but is also developing ballistic missiles to deter Pyongyang.