The navy plans to develop a submarine-launched missile because the US refuses to sell Taiwan a similar weapon, defense sources said yesterday.
The new missile is to be developed from the Hsiung Feng-II anti-ship missile built by the military's Chun Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST).
It is set to have a range of 50km. The Hsiung Feng-II has a longer range and recorded great accuracy in tests.
A naval source, who wished to remain anonymous, said the navy might be using the new missile development plan as a bargaining chip to try to convince the US to sell the same kind of weapon to the country.
"Far too many precedents have been set in similar circumstances. The military loves to ask the institute to develop weapon systems that the US refuses to sell to them. After these weapon systems have been successfully developed, the US usually agrees to sell the same stuff to us," the source said.
"Such tactics have been used again and again. Now the navy plans to use it one more time. Everyone knows that the CSIST does not have the ability to turn the Hsiung Feng-II into a submarine-launched missile," he said.
"The only way that the institute can get the job done is by buying technology from foreign countries, including the US."
To convert the Hsiung Feng-II into a submarine-launched weapon, the institute has to overcome many technical problems.
One of the first problems to be tackled is whether the missile can fit into the launch tubes of the two modern submarines that the navy bought from The Netherlands.
The Hsiung Feng-II, especially after being fitted with a booster, might be too large for the tubes.
Another big problem is how the missile will be guided after launch. It will be flying blind since the navy does not have a mid-course guidance system.
Usually, a helicopter is needed to provide such mid-course guidance for a missile of this kind, but it is logistically impossible to always have a helicopter at the ready close to wherever a submarine is deployed.
These two technical problems are enough for the institute to solve, not counting many others that have not yet been brought up for open discussion among naval personnel.
A defense official said the navy is acting correctly to plan for developing the missile since it is going to buy eight new submarines from the US.
"With new submarines, the navy is sure to demand better and more lethal underwater weapons. To effectively deter threats from China's warships, the navy needs anti-ship missiles that could be fired stealthily from underneath the surface of the sea," the official said.
"It does not matter whether the US agrees to sell the submarine-launched missile to us. If it does not sell the missile now, it will do so later," he said.