The Risk Report
Volume 4 Number 6 (November-December 1998)
Taiwan does not currently have a nuclear-capable long-range missile, but has an active short-range conventional missile program. It currently develops and produces anti-ship missiles (ASMs), surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and and air-to-air missiles (AAMs). Development of the Ching Feng (Green Bee) 1000-kilometer range surface-to-surface missile, which was unveiled in 1981, seems to be on hold.
Taiwan has had nuclear weapon ambitions in the past. However, U.S. pressure in 1988 forced Taiwan to shut down its largest research reactor and a facility U.S. intelligence believed could have been used to process plutonium for nuclear weapons. Taiwan possesses plutonium generated by several power reactors and has a sizable number of scientists who conduct nuclear research. Thus, Taiwan is capable of building nuclear weapons should it decide to do so.
U.S. intelligence suspects Taiwan of developing a chemical weapon arsenal
and possibly a clandestine biological weapon program. For these reasons, and
in light of the cross-strait tensions with China, Taiwan's missile programs
generate security concerns.
Since its creation, Taiwan has remained in a position of diplomatic isolation and has had to rely mainly on the United States for recognition and support. Western arms producers have generally shunned Taiwan in order to trade more readily with the People's Republic of China (PRC). These factors have forced Taiwan to try to become self-sufficient in the production of advanced missiles and military aircraft.
This drive for self-sufficiency has manifested itself in the development and manufacture of the "Ching-Kuo" Indigenous Defensive Fighter (IDF) aircraft by the Aerospace Industrial Development Center (AIDC). AIDC produced the first version of the IDF in early 1992. It was designed as a fast-climbing interceptor to defend Taiwan from attack by China across the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan currently has about 70 IDF aircraft, and will reportedly produce only 130, down from the planned 250. Taiwan ordered 150 F-16 fighters from the United States in 1992 and 60 Mirage 2000-5 aircraft from France.
Taiwan's major research and development center for national defense technology is the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), located 30 kilometers southwest of Taipei. CSIST has developed a range of small tactical and defensive missiles such as the Hsiung Feng I and II anti-ship missiles, the Tien Chien I and II air-to-air missiles (AAMs), and the Tien Kung I and II surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). These missiles have given Taiwanese technicians experience with composite materials, propellants, inertial guidance systems and fire-control systems, thus providing a useful technology base for developing longer-range surface-to-surface missiles.
The Tien Kung (Sky Bow) I is a low-to-medium-altitude radar-guided surface-to-air missile (SAM) with a range of 50 kilometers. It was first test fired in 1986 and production began in 1988. The solid-fueled missile is 5.3 meters long, weighs about 915 kilograms at launch, and carries a high-explosive fragmentation warhead. The missile is reportedly a hybrid in that it combines improved fire control radar with the U.S. Patriot missile's launcher and dimensions.
The more powerful Tien Kung II is a medium-to-high-altitude SAM with a range of 80 kilometers. It is 8.1 meters long, weighs 1115 kilograms at launch, and like the Tien Kung I, carries a high-explosive fragmentation warhead and is solid-fueled. It is derived from the U.S. Nike-Hercules that it was designed to replace. In 1996, Taiwan's General Staff Department reportedly approved a five-year program for CSIST to conduct basic research into the development of an anti-ballistic missile system using the Tien Kung missile. However, a plan to convert the Tien Kung II into a guided missile was reportedly rejected because of its short range and lack of a precision guidance system.
CSIST's Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missile is reportedly similar to the U.S. Harpoon missile. It is 4.6 meters long, weighs 685 kilograms and has a range of 80 kilometers. It is reportedly made of composite materials, has a turbojet engine, and a dual mode terminal guidance package, using infrared seekers designed by the Sun Yat-Sen Institute for Social Sciences and Philosophy. The missile was successfully test-fired in October 1996.
The Hsiung Feng III, a supersonic missile developed by CSIST, was test-fired
in early 1998. CSIST reportedly integrated the missile's ramjet engine with
the rocket section to increase its range and speed. Its range is reported to
be 200 kilometers.
Development of surface-to-surface missiles
Taiwan displayed what appeared to be its first surface-to-surface ballistic missile, the Ching Feng (Green Bee) at a National Day parade in Taipei in October 1981. The missile's reported range is 130 kilometers. While few details are available on the missile's specifications or testing history, the Ching Feng was reported to be very similar "in size and general arrangement" to the U.S. Lance missile. The Lance is a liquid-fueled, short-range, mobile, nuclear-capable missile that uses an inertial guidance system. It can carry a nuclear warhead to a range of 5-125 kilometers.
The Ching Feng was reportedly intended to be a prototype for a 1,000 kilometers medium-range SSM or simple space launch vehicle. However, in 1986, Taiwanese Defense Minister Cheng Wei Yuan stated that production of the missile would be discontinued, possibly due to U.S. pressure.
A report in 1997 outlined Taiwan's intention to test the new Tien Chi (Sky
Halberd), a 300 kilometer surface-to-surface missile (SSM) which was supposedly
derived from the Sky Bow (Tien Kung) II. Such a missile, incorporating GPS
technology for guidance, would be capable of a first strike against China.
Taiwan's space program
On September 19, 1989, Taiwan's then-Premier Li Huan announced plans for the development and launch of a satellite within the next five years. The main objective was to enable Taiwan to develop its own launch system capable of deploying a 90 kilogram satellite into low-earth orbit. However, in late 1990, just a little over a year after the program was announced, the government scrapped the launch plan and decided instead to limit its efforts to developing a satellite. According to several reports, the U.S. government's refusal to transfer critical rocket technology was one of the reasons Taiwan abandoned the effort.
In June 1993, Taiwan's National Space Program Office (NSPO) announced plans
to release a request for proposals for foreign contractors to help develop
its first satellite. TRW won the contract, and the ROCSAT-1 was delivered in
May 1997. TRW trained Taiwainese engineers and provided the technology, skills
and knowledge necessary to design, build, and test space-qualified hardware.
Despite the drive for self-sufficiency, Taiwan has also benefitted from foreign technology. The United States announced in 1996 that it would sell Taiwan Stinger missiles and guided missile launchers, and individual exporters have supplied guidance components, including infrared domes and optical receivers.
Taiwan is also cooperating with the Raytheon Corporation to develop the Modified Air Defense System, an air defense system similar to the Patriot missile. Raytheon has agreed to provide an extensive technology and training package to accompany the deal.