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Taiwan Wants Hypersonic Missiles

Scramjet Powered Hypersonic Weapon
Image: Raytheon media handout.

On Sunday, just a day before the 95th-anniversary celebrations to mark the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China conducted a test launch of its Dong Feng-17 (DF-17) medium-range hypersonic missile. Video footage of the live-fire launch, which took place at the Pingtan Islands, some 120 km (74 miles) from the Taiwanese coast, has been shared across social media.

The display of force was almost certainly in response to the then-potential visit of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. She was already scheduled to visit four other Asian-Pacific nations and arrived on the self-governing island on Tuesday evening – becoming the first House Speaker to set foot in the sovereign nation since Newt Gingrich a quarter of a century ago in 1997.

Beijing has denounced the trip, but it is unclear if the PLA will respond by conducting more missile launches.

A Taiwanese Hypersonic Missile Program?

Taiwan currently lacks the hypersonic missile capabilities of the PLA, but it has widely touted its other missile capabilities, which increasingly have the capability to strike ground targets across mainland China. Taiwan’s Hsiung Feng cruise missiles were developed specifically to strike a range of targets on the land and at sea – however, in the past, Washington has urged caution with Taipei when it came to the development of weapons that had an offensive nature.

Key among those was the Hsiung Feng IIE, which has a reported range of 600 km (372 miles), meaning that it could strike targets in the cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong – and could even hit the Three Gorges Dam.

Efforts are now reportedly underway on the island nation to develop hypersonic weapons, and this time Washington is balking. Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) is now leading the efforts and has set up a hypersonic missile program office. It remains unclear how far along the efforts have progressed. Where Taiwan has an advantage is that it is a leader in the development and production of microprocessors, which is a critical component of the systems. China has reportedly had to rely on American computer chips to develop its weapons.

Hypersonic missiles would certainly be a major asset for Taiwan, especially as such weapons could be employed as so-called “carrier killers.” The ability of Taipei to target and sink the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) aircraft carriers could be a significant deterrent, possibly one even greater than nuclear weapons. Already within Taiwan’s arsenal are its upgraded Hsiung Feng-3 (HF-3) anti-ship missiles, a supersonic missile that is based on an integrated rocket ramjet featuring solid and liquid fuel boosters. It can target warships up to 400km away and is able to employ high-G random weaving, which permits it to avoid advanced defenses, while it is also armed with an armor-piercing warhead that can destroy most warship defense systems.

However, hypersonic could take this even further. These can fly in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, and are generally designed to be highly maneuverable in flight. Glide bodies are actually unpowered, but reach terminal velocity under rocket power. Once at the proper speed and altitude, glide bodies separate from their rocket boosters and maneuver toward a target. The missiles also have the ability to maneuver in flight, which could make them hard to counter.

Finally, a hypersonic missile’s speed and force are so significant that it can inflict damage by its sheer ‘kinetic’ impact without even needing explosives. It could literally tear apart a large warship like a carrier. That could be enough to give Beijing pause before actually launching an invasion.

A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Steven

    August 2, 2022 at 8:22 pm

  2. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 3, 2022 at 1:45 am

    Hypersonic weapons are an expensive boondoggle touted by the Politicians, the Weapon’s industry, and the Press, for their Prestige, rather than their combat effectiveness.

    Taiwan would do better to buy 100-200 more anti-ship missiles now, rather than waste resources developing Hypersonic missiles, not to mention buying the expensive things later.

  3. Chris Cha

    August 3, 2022 at 6:31 pm

    Taiwan doesn’t need hypersonic missiles. They need LOTS of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles because that’s how the attack will come. They also need plenty of missiles with enough range to reach Shanghai, Beijing, and other key China cities so the CCP will know they will suffer plenty of pain.

  4. Craig K Dillon

    August 13, 2022 at 3:13 am

    Part of deterrence is psychological effects. The possession of hypersonic missiles, and the ability to design and develop them, could be a deterrence in its own right.
    The HF-2, 2e, and 3 missiles are impressive by themselves.
    Taiwan has had these missiles for awhile now, and probably have hundreds, or even thousands of them.
    These missiles alone can destroy a Chinese invasion fleet, sending it to the bottom of the sea.

  5. Steven

    August 21, 2022 at 11:59 pm

    This is pretty incredible, that a small island nation with minimal military budget can develop hypersonic missile which are a challenge for nuclear super powers such as China, Russia and the US.
    Likely, being adjacent to a superpower such as China, Taiwan needs to develop a competitive if not superior military power, or it’s sure to be taken over by China.

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