US Sells Taiwan 400 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles as US-Chinese Tensions Rise
As the US continues its proxy war against Russia in Ukraine, it also continues preparations for a similar conflict with China using the island province of Taiwan as its proxy of choice in Asia.
Toward this end, the US continues flooding the island province with billions of dollars worth of weapons.
One of the more recent announced weapon sales was 400 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Washington’s Flawed “Porcupine Strategy” for Taiwan
The anti-ship missiles manufactured by Boeing would presumably be part of developing much wider anti-access area denial (A2AD) capabilities for the administration’s armed forces on the island.
A Taiwan-based analyst, Pei-Shiue Hsieh, in an article for The Diplomat titled, “Building Taiwan’s Own Area Denial Capabilities,” would claim:
While some assert that Taiwan cannot counter a Chinese invasion on its own, the results of my analytical wargames show the opposite. The drills by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) last month likely demonstrated Beijing’s intentions to impose a naval blockade on the island in the event of a military confrontation. Taiwan’s military needs to prevent Chinese fleets from moving into their tactical positions or, if unable to prevent the blockade’s establishment, to disrupt ongoing PLA Navy (PLAN) operations.
In order to do so, the author suggests:
Taiwan must develop its own anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy, which incorporates guided weapons and reconnaissance systems. Currently, Taiwan’s military possesses two possible options for guided anti-ship weapons: the ground-launched Hsiung Feng II/III and the ground- or air-launched AGM-84 Harpoon. With the reconnaissance information gathered by naval surveillance radars and MQ-9B SeaGuardian unmanned aerial vehicles, these legacy anti-ship missiles remain potent defenders of the island. However, as the PLAN is rapidly growing, Taiwan needs more than short- and medium-range options to cope with the PLA threat.
The Hsiung Feng III and Harpoon anti-ship missiles have ranges of 400 km and 139 km respectively. While these ranges may seem like more than enough to target and destroy Chinese warships imposing a sea blockade on the island of Taiwan, the problem is that while the missiles themselves have active radar homing, finding Chinese ships to home in on in the first place will be very difficult for Taiwan’s armed forces.
Land-based radars have a limited range because of the curvature of the Earth, far shorter than the operational range of the anti-ship missiles themselves, which is why Pei-Shiue Hsieh suggests naval surveillance radars and those mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles could help in target acquisition. However, it is widely acknowledged by even Western analysts that Taiwan’s naval fleet and air force will play little to no role in any hostilities between the island and the rest of China, as they would be targeted and destroyed first and foremost by Chinese missiles.
This is why Pei-Shiue Hsieh suggests using the AGM-158C LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile) which has autonomous targeting. LRASMs however are air-launched, thus short of the US military utilizing the missiles on Taiwan’s behalf, Taiwan’s own air force would not survive long enough to use them.
Much of the author’s argument seems to depend on “intelligence sharing,” or in other words, US aircraft supplying Taiwan missile operators targeting information. The author cites the example of the Moskva, a Russian cruiser allegedly sunk by a Ukrainian anti-ship missile utilizing targeting information provided by NATO.
It should be pointed out that even if this was the result of Ukrainian missiles guided by NATO targeting information, it is only one ship out of the entire Russian Black Sea Fleet. Russia’s navy now simply keeps its distance, out of range of potential anti-ship missiles Ukraine may have, and is still able to control what flows to and from Ukraine by sea.
What Russia is unable to achieve with naval power along Ukraine’s coast it can achieve through long-range cruise missiles like the Kalibr, ballistic missiles like the Iskander, kamikaze drones like the Geran-2, and hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles like the Kinzhal. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet also includes a number of submarines for which anti-ship missiles are irrelevant unless operating on the surface.
In a scenario where China is attempting to blockade Taiwan and China feels its surface vessels are at risk from anti-ship missiles, it can also employ submarines while using its formidable missile force to strike at and destroy not only military capabilities based on Taiwan, but also ports receiving military aid from abroad as well as ships attempting to deliver it. A blockade by any other name is still a blockade.
The other problem Taiwan’s administration faces is the time frame purchased weapons would actually reach the island. The 400 purchased Harpoon anti-ship missiles will take years at the earliest to arrive.
Reuters would report in its article, “Taiwan to buy 400 US anti-ship missiles to face China threat,” that:
The Pentagon announced a $1.17 billion contract for 400 of the anti-ship missiles on April 7 without naming the buyer, saying production was expected to be completed by March 2029. Bloomberg said Taiwan was the buyer.
According to most estimates, the gap in military capabilities between China and the United States is set to close somewhere around 2025. By 2029, the gap would be in the process of widening, but this time in China’s favor.
Contracts for munitions like the LRASM are not even being publicly discussed, but should such contracts be signed, it’s likely Taiwan will be waiting as long or longer for the missiles to arrive, and that is assuming the missiles are developed into ground-launched systems to adapt to the reality Taiwan’s air force will not play a role in any hostilities with the rest of China.
Profits and Provocations, Not Protection
While Boeing is certainly profiting from the sale of 400 Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Taiwan, the move hardly enhances Taiwan’s military capabilities relative to the rest of China, nor does it do so within the window of opportunity the US seeks to provoke an armed conflict with China over Taiwan. If any blockade imposed by China around the island province of Taiwan is to be broken, it will have to be by the US military using a combination of anti-ship missiles and anti-submarine warfare.
US policymakers having wargamed an armed conflict between the US and China noted that the US would likely exhaust its arsenal of long-range anti-ship missiles of all kinds, a result of America’s limited military industrial capacity, a shortfall on demonstration amid its proxy war with Russia in Ukraine at the moment.
But even if the US didn’t run out of missiles and if the US was successful in thwarting China’s use of naval vessels to impose a blockade, a de facto blockade can still be imposed through the use of China’s long-range missiles fired from the mainland at Taiwan’s ports and any ships attempting to utilize them.
There are no clear solutions for Taiwan if it continues down the path of US-sponsored separatism and antagonism toward the rest of China, so much so that the only logical solution to “defeat” a Chinese blockade of the island is to not provoke one in the first place.