Taiwan sends not-so-subtle signal on China’s carrier

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporter

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 - Page 1

In a blunt departure from tradition, the military yesterday displayed a model Hsiung Feng (“Brave Wind”) III (HF-3) anti-ship missile with, as a backdrop, a large picture of a burning aircraft carrier that bore a striking resemblance to China’s retrofitted Varyag, which embarked on its maiden voyage earlier in the day.

The booth, set at a prominent location at the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE), which opens today, was the center of attention of reporters who were given a chance to take a look around during a pre-show visit.

The HF-3, a ramjet-powered supersonic anti-ship missile, can be launched from land and surface platforms, such as Taiwan’s Perry-class frigates. The 130km-range, single-warhead missile has been in development at the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST, 中山科學研究院) since 1995. It entered production in about 2007 and is believed to have entered service the following year.

The CSIST is administered by the Ministry of National Defense’s Armaments Bureau.

Asked to confirm how many missiles were currently in production or had been deployed, Chiang Wu-ing, deputy director of the Hsiung Feng program at CSIST, would not provide figures.

While the HF-3 had been on display at previous shows, this was the first time it was shown in a context that prominently identified its intended target. Although no flag or ensign could be seen on the computer-generated rendition of the aircraft carrier and accompanying fleet, the “ski jump” ramp and general outlook were oddly similar to the Varyag China acquired from Ukraine in 1998.

Next to the burning carrier were the Chinese characters for “carrier killer,” also the first time the HF-3 had been described as such. It is doubtful, however, that the missile’s 120kg payload would be sufficient to sink an aircraft carrier.

Approached by reporters for comment on the symbolism and timing of the display, a CSIST spokesperson would not directly confirm that the vessel depicted was the Varyag.

For his part, Chiang said that when the HF-3 entered development and even after it had entered production, the Taiwanese military and CSIST could not have known that China would acquire and refurbish the Soviet-era Varyag or embark on a program to develop its own carriers, expected to enter service in about 2020.

Initial reports had said the 60,000 tonne Kuznetsov-class carrier would embark on its maiden voyage on July 1 to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, but unexpected developments forced a delay until this month.