A local newspaper reported on Monday that the military had begun deploying locally developed Hsiung Feng-III (HF-3) anti-ship missiles on its warships in anticipation of the imminent launch of China’s first aircraft carrier early next year.
In the first stage, the supersonic ship-to-ship missile will be deployed on 15 warships. It will eventually also be installed on mobile launchers along Taiwan’s west coast.
Reports that Taiwan had begun deploying HF-3s on destroyers date back to as early as 2006. That year, a Kidd-class destroyer berthed at Suao was seen with four HF-3 missile launch tubes. Also in 2006, British defense publication Jane’s reported that Taipei had allocated funds for the production of 120 HF-3s that year alone.
Military analysts said the HF-3 and a Russian-developed system, were the world’s only supersonic anti-ship missiles. The HF-3 is three times faster than conventional anti-ship missiles the Chinese-language United Daily News reported.
Analysts said it was difficult to counter the HF-3 missile, which has a maximum speed of Mach 2 and a range of up to 130km.
The missile is capable of targeting fuel tanks and ammunition depots on ships, and can be used against China’s aircraft carrier battle groups, military sources said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said the deployment of the HF-3 and the Hsiung Feng II-E cruise missile capable of hitting China’s east coast would enhance Taiwan’s ability to deter a Chinese invasion.
Lin said he had asked the navy to evaluate the feasibility of deploying the missile on Kidd-class destroyers.
The HF-3 was first unveiled during the 2007 Double Ten National Day military parade.
In the first stage, the navy’s eight 4,000 tonne Cheng Kung class frigates and seven 500 tonne Chin Chiang fast-attack missile boats will be outfitted with the HF-3, each warship being equipped with four missiles, military sources said.
As China will soon commission its first aircraft carrier battle group, Lin said Taiwan should also strive to overcome its difficulties in acquiring diesel electric submarines, which he said are the most effective weapons to deter an enemy invasion.
Taiwanese intelligence authorities said China had almost completed renovating its first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, which it acquired from the Ukraine in the 1990s.
The carrier could be formally commissioned late this year or early next year. Although the date may be close to the legislative and presidential elections on Jan. 14, intelligence sources said that would be a coincidence rather than a deliberate ploy.
The carrier will be able to accommodate about 20 jet fighters and helicopters. Intelligence sources say China will take delivery of Ka-28 and Ka-31 helicopters from Russia this year for deployment on the Varyag, but J-15 jet fighters, patterned after Russia’s Su-33, will not be completed until 2015.
In the initial stage, the aircraft carrier will mainly carry out training missions, but it will be assigned to China’s South China Fleet after the battle group acquires combat capabilities, military sources said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STAFF WRITER