No, this is not a reprint of our story from October 22  – this is another sale to Taiwan, this time of Harpoon cruise missiles.  These will be in the latest Block 2 configuration – and Taipei will receive up to 400 of them, plus all of the equipment necessary for them to be used for land-based coastal defence.  The package will further strengthen the country’s already robust anti-invasion capabilities.

On October 26 the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said:

“The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) has requested to buy up to one hundred (100) Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems (HCDS) consisting of up to four hundred (400) RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II Surface Launched Missiles; and four (4) RTM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II Exercise Missiles. Also included are four hundred and eleven (411) containers, one hundred (100) Harpoon Coastal Defense System Launcher Transporter Units, twenty-five (25) radar trucks, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor representatives’ technical assistance, engineering and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support. The total estimated program cost is $2.37 billion.”

Made by Boeing, the Harpoon is the western world’s most prolific missile, with more than 7,000 of the delivered to 30 customers.  First deployed in 1977, it has been progressively updated and remains at the leading edge of technology.  The company describes its capabilities:

“Harpoon Block II incorporates key guidance technologies from two other Boeing weapons programs — the low-cost, integrated global positioning system/inertial navigation system (GPS/INS) from the Joint Direct Attack Munition and the software, mission computer, GPS antenna and receiver from the SLAM-ER.

“The Harpoon is capable of executing both land-strike and anti-ship missions. To strike targets on land and ships in port, the missile uses GPS-aided inertial navigation to hit a designated target aimpoint. The 500-pound blast warhead delivers lethal firepower against a wide variety of land-based targets, including coastal defense sites, surface-to-air missile sites, exposed aircraft, port/industrial facilities and ships in port. For conventional anti-ship missions, such as open ocean or near-land, the GPS/INS improves midcourse guidance to the target area. The accurate navigation solution allows users to discriminate target ships from islands or other nearby land masses or ships.”

Harpoon block 11: Boeing

The scale of this order is a huge one for Boeing and comes after an even larger sale to Saudi Arabia and a number of other users of 1,000 missiles announced in May.  Because the land-based version, which has a range in excess of 125km, can be mounted on trucks and widely dispersed to hidden and hardened shelters, it will give Chinese military planners further nightmares when contemplating any sort of cross-Straits assault.

Each Harpoon has a 200kg warhead, which is large enough to sink or severely damage any ship in the PLA(N) inventory.  Taiwan already has more than 300 air launched Harpoons in its arsenal – and with the ability to increase their range by launching them at altitude, they can cover not only all of the Straits but also quite a chunk of the Chinese coastline – including harbours and missile sites – into the bargain.

The sale is just as much political as it is military because Taiwan has a formidable indigenous cruise missile capability.  The Hsiung Feng II (HF-2) has a range in excess of 160km with a 180kg warhead and they can be launched from aircraft or surface canisters. The The Hsiung Feng III (HF-3; Chinese: 雄風三型, “Brave Wind III”) is the secretive supersonic newest version of the missile developed a decade ago with a 225kg warhead – and a claimed 1,500km range.  If the range figure is accurate, it would put all of Shanghai in striking distance, which is a mere 700km away.  Taiwan is likely to have several hundred of both types of missiles in service.

Despite this, a decision of the US to sell a further $2 billion worth of Harpoons sends a powerful political message to Beijing – and one that Washington has been repeatedly emphasising.  Put simply, the policy is: if China keeps threatening Taiwan, it will only lead to even more weapons being sold as a counter move.

In the event of an attempted invasion from China by sea – the only way of landing enough troops and heavy equipment to be successful – Taiwan will have the capability to fire almost simultaneously dozens or even hundreds of sea-skimming missiles from multiple directions.  If only a small proportion made it through to their targets the effects would be catastrophic.


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