Sunday, August 14, 2005

Cruise Missile Controversy

Taiwan has developed and deployed indigenously developed land attack cruise missiles (LACM). Or not.

Two days ago, it was widely reported in the news that Taiwan had secretly deployed the cruise missiles, which were designed by the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) and designated Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind). The missiles were reported to have a range of 1000 km. Citing the China Times, the papers claimed that President Chen
inspected the missile command and witnessed a mock launch of the cruise missiles.

The paper also spoke of tests that an anonymous source said had been conducted:
The missile - fired from the Jiupeng Missile Base in southern Taiwan - cruised about 300 miles before hitting a dummy target at sea off outlying Green Island, the China Times quoted an unidentified military source as saying.

Yesterday, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) described the story as "sheer fabrication." It is unclear which part of the report he was debunking: the missiles' existance, their deployment, President Chen's attendance, or some other part. The MND spokesmen declined further comment because
the ministry does not comment on fabricated reports.

Part of the misunderstanding appears to be whether the Hsiung Feng-IIE is a LACM or a anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). In 2001, CSIST said the HF-IIE was not a cruise missile, but rather an anti-ship missile (ASM). As late as July of this year, newspapers were still reporting that the HF-IIE was a LACM, including the Taipei Times, which claimed that the HF-IIEs could hit Shanghai if they were deployed on the ROC's outlying islands. eTaiwan News, in its article on the ministry's denial, stated matter-of-factly:
The Hsiungfeng 2E cruise missile, a modified version of the locally-built Hsiungfeng II anti-ship missile, is a mid-range land-based mobile strategic missile.
To illustrate the level of confusion, Wikipedia describes the HF-IIE as an ASM in the introduction and a LACM in the body of the same page.

The significance of all of this clearly lies in the classification of the HF-IIE as an offensive or defensive weapon. An ASCM could easily be classified as a defensive weapon, especially when China regularly trains for an invasion of Taiwan and talks of a blockade of the island. A LACM, especially one that puts Shanghai within range, on the other hand, would be an offensive weapon by definition. This would seem to signify a new national security plan. Were Taiwan to have the capability to hit a major Chinese city, that would serve as a significant deterrent to attack. Former Premier Yu Shyi-kun caused quite a stir a year ago with a call for such a deterrent:
The best scenario will see a 'balance of terror' being maintained across the Taiwan Strait so that the national security is safeguarded.