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Taiwan's New Wan Chien Cruise Missile; How Viable is the Air Force's Plan to Launch Precision Strikes Against China?

August 09th - 2018

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry has reiterated its confidence in its Wan Chien standoff cruise missile, an advanced and newly developed turbine powered air launched platform designed to provide the country with viable power offensive capabilities against Beijing's growing air defence network. The cruise missiles are set to provide an effective complement to the Taiwanese ballistic missile arsenal - comprised of the advanced Tien Chi and Hsiung Feng II, IIE and III short ranged platforms - and launched from the air they are considered a more survivable asset less vulnerable to being eliminated in a first strike. The missile is launched by Taiwan’s indigenous Ching Kuo fighters, one of four light combat platforms currently in service alongside the F-16A, Mirage 2000 and F-5E, and has been declared fully operational and under mass production. The missiles make use of GPS guidance alongside an inertial navigation system, and deploy cluster munitions to maximise damage against potential targets.

With the primary and overreaching goal of Taiwan’s armed forces remaining preparation for a potential war against the Chinese mainland, the Wan Chien is intended to strike Chinese targets with precision in the event of a potential war - including airfields and command centres. With Taiwan itself situated just 130km from the mainland, the missile’s range of 200km - while short relative to those deployed by Chinese forces - is more than sufficient to strike valuable targets far into Chinese territory - particularly when deployed by fighters operating near the country's airspace. One key weakness with Taiwan’s strategy however is the extreme vulnerability of its combat aircraft in a engagement with the fighters Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force and with Chinese air defences. Flying far slower, at low altitudes and with lighter payloads than their Chinese analogues such as the Chinese J-11B and J-10C, Taiwanese fighters will be extremely vulnerable to interception in the air. While the Wan Chien allows Taiwan’s jets to engage at standoff ranges this is hardly sufficient to ensure their survivability given the territory’s proximity to the Chinese mainland. With the PLA’s fighters fielding considerably superior and longer ranged air to air munitions, the Ching Kuo and F-16 fighter will be poorly placed to defend themselves.

Lacking stealth capabilities, deploying from airbases extremely close to Chinese territory, and using technologies dating back to the 1970s, Taiwan’s fleet of unspecialised light fighters are likely to fail in any offensive role and can be detected and neutralised with ease by the PLA’s air and missile assets. Chinese air defence platforms such as the HQ-9B, S-300 and S-400 retain coverage over Taiwanese airfields and are well within their limits to neutralise Taiwanese jets over the island’s before they can launch an attack. With the S-400 designed to intercept the latest stealth fighters with precision at extreme ranges, launched in 2006 in response to the induction of the U.S. F-22 Raptor a few months prior, a single platform capable of targeting 80 fighters simultaneously, allocating two missiles per aircraft, will alone be more than sufficient to enforce a no fly zone over Taiwan. The Wan Chien missile itself, travelling subsonically, is similarly well within the capabilities of the S-400 and other Chinese platforms to intercept. While the Wan Chien appears to be a formidable design, one of many advanced products to have emerged from the Taiwanese defence industry alongside the Ching Kuo fighter itself, the extremely difficult circumstances facing Taiwan’s Air Force make its deployment highly impractical.

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