Subs to be equipped with Harpoon missiles next year

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporter

Fri, Feb 24, 2012 - Page 3

Taiwan’s two combat-capable submarines will be equipped with anti-ship missiles next year, providing the nation’s undersea force with a long-distance strike capability it had previously lacked.

The Chinese-language United Daily News reported on Wednesday that more than 30 US-built surface-to-surface Harpoon cruise missiles would become operational on the two Hailung-class submarines sometime next year. The subsonic sea-skimming missiles, which have a range of about 125km, will bring targets along the Chinese coast within range.

The navy recently test-fired the weapons in the US in preparation for their installation on the Dutch-built submarines, the report said, citing unnamed navy sources.

A US$6.4 billion arms sale notification to US Congress in October 2008 included 32 UGM-84L sub-launched Harpoon Block II missiles, plus two UTM-84L exercise missiles and two weapon control systems for Taiwan.

The US Department of Defense awarded a US$43.85 million defense contract to Boeing for the production and procurement of 32 Harpoon missiles for Taiwan in June 2010, with work to be completed in June last year.

The navy has declined to comment on the report, citing a policy of not discussing arms purchases with the media. Taiwan’s frigates and F-16 aircraft are already armed with Harpoon missiles.

However, integrating the Harpoon missiles requires substantial modifications to existing fire control systems and launch tubes and some defense analysts have been skeptical as to whether the Hailungs could accommodate them. Reports last year that indigenously made Hsiung Feng II cruise missiles had been test-launched on the subs were discredited soon afterwards.

However, the latest news is far more credible. The navy first announced its intention to modify the submarines so they could fire Harpoon missiles back in 2005.

Approached for comment, a retired navy officer told the Taipei Times yesterday that the project was entirely feasible.

A standalone fire control system that does not interfere with existing combat systems must be developed, the source said, adding that while it was possible to have the Harpoon fire control system integrated to current systems, doing so would require complicated engineering modification work.

In addition to the fire control systems, adjustments to the torpedo tube mechanism could be necessary to accommodate the launch of both torpedoes and the Harpoon missiles, the source said.

Another option would be to add a standalone launch tube for the Harpoons, he said.

US firm Boeing Co, which was the main contractor for the project, sent experts to Taiwan to assist the navy complete the necessary modifications on the submarines.

Additional work may also have been carried out by Raytheon Corp.