Taiwan is arming more of its fleet with its new “carrier killer” anti-ship missiles as China conducts further sea trials of its first aircraft carrier, local media said Monday.
Five of the Taiwanese navy’s eight Perry-class frigates have been armed with the supersonic Hsiung Ffeng (Brave Wind) III weapons, the Taipei-based China Times said.
Some of its smaller patrol boats have also been equipped with the missiles, which are designed to cruise at a speed of Mach 2.0, or twice the speed of sound, with a range of up to 130 kilometres (80 miles), the newspaper said.
The defence ministry declined to comment on the report.
The China Times said the navy plans to deploy 120 such missiles — dubbed “aircraft carrier killers” by their developer — in a project costing an estimated Tw$12 billion ($400 million).
The missiles were first unveiled by Taiwan in August last year on the same day that China began sea trials for its first aircraft carrier, a reconditioned 1980s-era warship originally commissioned by the Soviet navy.
China has conducted seven sea trials of the ship since mid-2011, the paper said, without identifying its source.
Taiwan’s defence ministry has expressed alarm at China’s recent naval expansion, although one expert said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was still years away from operating a fully-equipped aircraft carrier.
Kevin Cheng, editor-in-chief of the Taipei-based Asia-Pacific Defense Magazine, told AFP: “It will take the PLA at least five years to operate a carrier group with full combat capability.”
The biggest challenge to the navy will be the implementation of software, he added.
Ties between China and Taiwan have improved significantly since the Beijing-friendly Ma Ying-jeou became the island’s president in 2008, vowing to adopt a non-confrontational policy towards the mainland.
But China still regards Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, although the island has governed itself since the two sides separated in 1949 after a long civil war.