Taiwan Guns For China’s Achilles Heel! Unleashes Another ‘Aircraft Carrier Killer’ Missile Corvette

In what could be a step towards creating effective deterrence to the Chinese PLA-Navy sailing its aircraft carriers past the Taiwan Strait, the Taiwanese Navy officially launched its fifth Tuo Chiang-class guided missile corvette, dubbed “aircraft carrier killer.”

Launched on October 18, the An Chiang, which bears the name of Yilan County’s Annong Creek, was the third corvette to be finished in 2023. The ships are constructed at a Kaohsiung City yard run by Lungteh Shipbuilding, and following a period of testing, they are sent to the navy, CNA reported.

The ship, built locally, can reportedly take on both aerial and sea threats. The corvette, launched in 2020, has been designed to play a vital role in the island’s asymmetric warfare strategy to counter a much superior and technologically advanced Chinese People’s Liberation Army – Navy.

With a displacement of 700 tons and a maximum speed of 45 knots (83 kilometers/hour), the corvette is outfitted with subsonic missiles that can strike targets on land or at sea, including aircraft carriers. It uses cutting-edge stealth technology to evade detection. It may also function in coastal or shallow waters, which are difficult for larger ships to navigate, like destroyers and frigates.

“With its high mobility and stealth function, it is difficult to track and is designed to counter the PLA ships,” Chieh Chung, a national security researcher at the National Policy Foundation, a think tank affiliated with the main opposition Kuomintang party earlier told South China Morning Post.

The warship was partly constructed using high-entropy metal alloys for added strength and longevity and outfitted with one of the most cutting-edge computer systems.

Most importantly, according to the manufacturer and the Taiwanese Navy, the ship is nearly undetectable at sea and even harder to spot when operating near the coast thanks to its stealth technology and small radar cross-section. According to the Navy, it was built to replace many tasks currently performed by more prominent, less maneuverable, and more costly frigates and destroyers.

Amid China’s escalating threat, the Ministry of National Defense ordered the launch of 11 Tuo Chiang-class ships through 2026. Until the sixth version, the ships will be outfitted with 16 Sea Sword II air defense missiles, four Hsiung Feng III supersonic anti-ship missiles, and eight Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missiles till the sixth edition. These cutting-edge missiles have earned them the moniker of “carrier killers.”

Beijing has increased pressure on Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected president in 2016, and the island nation vehemently opposed and refused to acknowledge the One-China concept. Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has not relinquished the use of force to bring the island under its authority.

Moreover, China has rapidly increased its military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait, simultaneously simulating and rehearsing an all-out invasion. Its aircraft carrier often sails close to the self-ruled Taiwanese Island. For instance, China’s domestically-built aircraft carrier reportedly sailed past Taiwan and entered the Western Pacific Sea for a far sea exercise last month.

The induction of carrier killer corvettes in service would thus likely bolster the Taiwanese Navy and create deterrence with the PLA-N. However, it may also be noteworthy that doubt has been cast on the capabilities of Chinese aircraft carriers, with critics calling it subpar compared to its Western counterparts. 

Doubts Still Remain About PLA-N Aircraft Carriers

China currently has three aircraft carriers. The first carrier, Liaoning, is an archaic Soviet asset, whereas Shandong and Fujian have been built domestically. Out of these three, the Fujian has yet to embark on sea trials, leaving the PLA-N with only two operational aircraft carriers.

The United States and its allies are becoming concerned about Beijing’s growing military might, as evidenced by its powerful missile forces and other naval warships, including state-of-the-art cruisers. However, four military attachés and six defense analysts with knowledge of regional naval deployments believe China may need more than ten years to establish a credible carrier threat distant from its shores.

Instead, the attachés and analysts told Reuters earlier this year that China’s carriers are more of a propaganda piece, with questions raised about their usefulness in a potential clash with the United States over Taiwan and whether China could defend them on longer-range operations into the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Some military experts said that despite the positive media coverage attributed to Chinese carriers, they remained in training mode. For example, night and poor weather landings, essential to regular offshore carrier operations, are still not commonplace, according to several attachés and experts.

Shandong aircraft carrier
File Image: Shandong Aircraft Carrier

Furthermore, several experts noted that the People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) has not yet mastered protective screening operations, notably anti-submarine warfare, leaving China’s carriers open to missile and submarine attacks in the event of a conflict.

Trevor Hollingsbee, a former British naval intelligence analyst, said, “Unlike other parts of their military modernization, there is something politically theatrical about their carrier deployments so far.”

The attachés, who spoke to Reuters under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk in public, said that China’s carrier pilots had occasionally used land-based airfields for takeoffs or landings, as well as for additional air cover and surveillance.

Moreover, military experts in the West have also often pointed out that China operates the J-15 as its carrier jet, copied and reverse-engineered based on a Soviet carrier jet design, and is notorious for accidents and crashes.

In fact, with China revising rules for the induction of naval aviator cadets, there has been speculation that the PLA-N is dealing with a pilot’s crunch to operate from the three aircraft carriers. It has now allowed non-military graduates as well as women.

The experts believe that while China has been making concerted efforts to modernize its aircraft carriers and add more teeth, there will be a few years before China can catch up with its rivals in carrier operations.