Taiwan’s Rapid Defense Buildup: Escalation Of New Tension In Taiwan Strait – Analysis


With an increase in recent disputes, particularly between China and Taiwan, the Indo-Pacific region has emerged as a significant arena for geopolitical dynamics in international relations. In light of recent advancements, Taiwan is now engaged in the development of cruise missiles to bolster its deterrent and defensive capabilities against China.

Taiwan perceives China as a plausible threat to its autonomy and security due to China’s assertion of Taiwan as an integral part of its territory and its refusal to exclude the possibility of using military means to achieve reunification. Taiwan has concerns about the potential initiation of a military invasion or a campaign of coercion by China, particularly in light of China’s expanding military capabilities and economic influence.

The HF-2E missile is a key component of Taiwan’s defensive measures aimed at mitigating the potential threat of a Chinese incursion. Taiwan has successfully produced a diverse array of missiles capable of effectively targeting various elements of China’s naval, air, and land troops, in addition to its command-and-control centers. Taiwan aspires to use its capacity to inflict substantial casualties on China as a means to deter Beijing from initiating a military attack or to compel Beijing to reach a favorable resolution. The HF-2E missile is widely regarded as a representation of Taiwan’s autonomy and self-sufficiency since it was independently created without external financial support.

The HF-2E cruise missile has significant strategic importance for Taiwan because of its status as the longest-range missile within Taiwan’s arsenal. The HF-2E is based on the Hsiung Feng II, a subsonic anti-ship cruise missile, but has a longer range and a different guidance system. Furthermore, it stands out among the several Hsiung Feng cruise missile versions as the only type explicitly tailored for land-attack operations. Due to its ability to reach deep into the mainland and effectively target crucial military and civilian facilities, the Taiwanese-developed HF-2E missile poses a serious security risk for China. The HF-2E is a land-attack cruise missile with a stated operational range of 1,200 kilometers, making it suitable for long-range engagements.

Over many years, Taiwan has made substantial financial investments in the development and enhancement of the HF-2E cruise missiles. The Hsiung Feng IIE missile was expected to have a cost of around 3 million USD in 2003. In 2012, Taiwan allocated around 1.5 billion USD for the development and production of 300 HF-2E missiles. Furthermore, Taiwan has committed around 1.8 billion USD for the HF-2E program throughout the period spanning from 2006 to 2016. Taiwan has formulated a strategic plan to allocate about 2.5 billion USD towards the procurement of 500 HF-2E missiles by the year 2025. However, Taiwan has never publicly displayed the HF-2E missile, but it has conducted several test launches from the Jiupeng military base in Pingtung County.

The most recent test launch was reported on August 16, 2023, as part of a three-day live-fire drill. Taiwan wants to keep the HF-2E missile as a secret weapon that can shock China.

HF-2E cruise missiles can potentially cover a substantial portion of China’s eastern coastline as well as its central regions, including prominent urban centers such as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Chengdu. This implies that any action from Taiwan has the potential to pose a significant risk to China’s key political, economic, and military hubs, as well as its surveillance and reconnaissance resources, radar systems, missile installations, airfields, and other essential People’s Liberation Army facilities.

Moreover, the missile can elude China’s air defense systems via its low-altitude flight patterns and incorporation of stealth technology. Additionally, the system has a notable precision range of 10 to 15 meters, enabling it to effectively engage intended targets with accuracy and inflict substantial impact. The missile can transport a warhead weighing 450 kg, which is designed to contain a highly explosive substance. This warhead exhibits the ability to effectively penetrate buildings that have been fortified while simultaneously generating explosion effects. Additionally, it can be outfitted with either a semi-armor-piercing high explosive or a fragmentation payload, allowing for effective engagement of many target types. The system can be deployed from a movable platform situated on roadways, allowing for concealment and dispersion over many areas. This poses a challenge for China in terms of effectively identifying and neutralizing the launchers before their missile deployment.

Nevertheless, the Chinese government perceives Taiwan’s missile development as a provocative act and a direct affront to its territorial claims. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province that necessitates reunification with the mainland, even if it requires the use of force. China has consistently criticized Taiwan’s missile activities and issued warnings of potential retaliatory actions. China may potentially pursue the development of more sophisticated anti-missile systems or engage in preemptive military actions to eliminate Taiwan’s missile capability. Consequently, the HF-2E missile developed by Taiwan has been a source of heightened tension and instability in the context of cross-strait relations. China has implemented a significant deployment of several short-range ballistic missiles in proximity to Taiwan, resulting in a regional missile imbalance.

Additionally, China is actively engaged in the advancement of sophisticated anti-missile systems and the consideration of preemptive attacks to effectively neutralize Taiwan’s missile capabilities. In addition, the People’s Liberation Army of China is engaging in missile launches near Taiwan as a component of extensive military exercises aimed at showcasing its capabilities and exerting pressure on Taiwan. These actions are intended to increase diplomatic and economic pressures on Taiwan and its allies and isolate the island. Furthermore, it has been seen that China is engaged in cyberattacks, espionage activities, and acts of sabotage targeting Taiwan’s vital infrastructure and military systems.

China sees Taiwan’s military expansion as a direct affront to its territorial claims. China perceives Taiwan’s military advancements as indicative of its pursuit of independence and sovereignty, therefore conflicting with China’s ‘One-China’ policy that affirms its exclusive authority over the island. There is concern that the military capabilities of Taiwan may pose a potential threat to China’s military superiority and deterrence in the area, particularly if Taiwan procures modern weaponry from the United States or other allied nations.

Furthermore, China harbors a sense of displeasure towards Taiwan’s military collaboration with the United States and other nations that share similar perspectives. China perceives such cooperation as an intrusion into its domestic affairs and as an effort to restrict its territorial claims. Finally, it is crucial to acknowledge that the People’s Liberation Army has a substantial military presence deployed across the Taiwan Strait, which includes several command-and-control centers. Taiwan’s existing array of counterstrike weaponry, such as the HF-2E, may not possess the necessary capabilities to effectively deter or repel a potential invasion originating from mainland China.

The aforementioned challenges that Taiwan encounters have generated appeals, particularly in the United States, to substantially enhance the military capabilities and overall resilience of the Taiwanese armed forces to effectively counteract any future interventions. In the preceding month, President Joe Biden declared his authorization of a maximum of $345 million in drawdown military assistance for Taiwan. This pertains to a system through which pre-existing materials within the inventory of the United States military may be transferred to allies and partners of the United States under certain conditions. Despite the absence of formal recognition by the U.S. government, Taiwan is afforded backing and approval for conventional weaponry shipments to its armed forces.

In conclusion, considering the geopolitical circumstances in recent years, Taiwan has been actively pursuing the advancement and procurement of various essential capabilities. These include the acquisition of new submarines and naval vessels, the development of drones, loitering munitions, counter-drone systems, air and missile defense systems, and other related assets. Hence, the ongoing proliferation of cruise missiles in Taiwan is engendering heightened tensions and instability within the context of Sino-Taiwanese ties in the Indo-Pacific region.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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