Taiwan Looks To “Slam Dunk” Chinese PLA Navy With SLAM-ER Missiles; Wants Them Deployed Before 2027

With US arms deliveries to Taiwan running far behind schedule amid a burgeoning threat from China, some US lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to accelerate the delivery of Harpoon anti-ship missiles and SLAM-ER land-attack missiles. 

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Recently, the US House of Representatives passed a $95B legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Out of $95B, $8.12B will go to the Asia Pacific, including Taiwan. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense thanked the US House for its “rock solid” support.

Members of the US House of Representatives demanded a US$165 million (NT$5.3 billion) investment to expedite the delivery of Harpoon missiles to Taiwan in a letter addressed to the House Committee on Appropriations on April 17, CNA reported.

Led by US Representative Mark Alford, Representatives Blaine Luetkemeyer, Rob Wittman, and Donald Davis signed the letter. The letter comes at a time when the delivery of crucial weapon systems like the Abrams Main Battle Tanks and the F-16 Viper fighters has been delayed.

The request stipulates that the missile delivery be accelerated and that the weapons must be installed in Taiwan before the Davidson Window, or the 2027 timeline of a potential Chinese invasion, given by former commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Phillip Davidson.

“It is clear that Harpoons are the deterrent we urgently need to prevent China from invading or blocking Taiwan,” Alford wrote. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the United States approved the sale of 100 sets of shore-mounted Harpoon missile systems to Taiwan in 2020.

According to previous reports, Taiwan has been working closely with the United States since 2022 to accelerate the delivery of Harpoon missiles. Taiwanese officials have been in talks with their US counterparts to ensure the delivery of more than half of the missiles within the next three years and the remaining by the end of 2029.

Additionally, the Pentagon announced in April last year that Taiwan would buy as many as 400 US land-launched Harpoon missiles in the face of rising threats from China. The Harpoon is an over-the-horizon, all-weather anti-ship missile that Boeing has designed and produced. Taiwan needs to acquire more anti-ship missiles in a shorter period to counter the growing military threat.

Harpoon Missile
File Image: Harpoon Missile

This has become more important now that China has become quite vocal about the integration of Taiwan — which it considers a rogue island province — with the Chinese mainland. It has said it won’t shy away from using force to make the big “reunification” happen.

The Harpoon anti-ship missiles are expected to play a major role in combating an invasion that takes place over the sea. The acquisition plan, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, is based on computer-simulated research that shows that 50% of the enemy’s naval targets must be destroyed by anti-ship missiles.

In contrast to the Harpoon, which has remained in the headlines, the scheduled delivery of the Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), which is based on the Harpoon missile, is not discussed as much.

SLAM-ER for Taiwan

The US State Department authorized the sale of  135 AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) and 64 MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to Taiwan on October 21, 2020.

A press statement from the time said that since the missile delivers all-weather, day and night, precision attack capabilities against both “moving and stationary targets” on the ground or ocean surface, the SLAM-ER missiles would assist Taiwan in “meeting existing and future threats.”

The Harpoon anti-ship missile served as the model for the development of SLAM-ER, which has a range of about 270 kilometers. The AGM-84K SLAM-ER is an air-launched precision strike missile that can strike both land and sea targets. It is suitable for both day and night missions and can be used in poor weather conditions over a long range.

The SLAM-ER missile boasts enhanced aerodynamic performance characteristics that enable both long-range and flexible terminal attack profiles. Additionally, the missile also includes an ordnance section with penetrating power and lethality, an imaging infrared seeker, and a two-way data link for man-in-the-loop control.

AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER – Wikipedia

With the use of automatic target acquisition, SLAM-ER can bypass most infrared countermeasures, enhance target acquisition in congested settings, and lessen the negative effects of deteriorated environmental conditions. The F/A-18C/D/E/F and P-3 platforms are capable of launching and controlling the SLAM-ER. This means that F-16s in Taiwan’s inventory would be able to launch stand-off attacks with these missiles.

In October last year, a US congressional committee questioned the US Navy on “alarming delays” in the delivery of weapons to Taiwan. The committee inquired why, in certain cases, production would not resume for months or years after purchase agreements were made.

“Bureaucratic delays within the Navy are impeding the timely production and delivery of key weapons to Taiwan – including critical anti-ship missiles – and undermining efforts to prevent war,” the lawmakers said at that time.

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Since then, lawmakers have specifically highlighted the need for anti-ship Harpoon and SLAM-ER missiles, both of which the US agreed years ago to deliver to Taiwan. The heat of the delays is being felt now in the wake of the prediction of a Chinese invasion by 2027.

According to the Pentagon’s China military power report, China currently has the world’s largest navy with around 340 ships and submarines. As several military pundits have predicted over the years, this could be used in a cross-strait conflict triggered by a Chinese amphibious invasion.

China has also intensified its military drills near the Taiwan Strait, honing its skills and simulating an invasion by cutting off external aid. Some Taiwanese officials, including the Foreign Minister, have expressed concern that China could eventually use these drills to invade an actual invasion.

In the face of a looming invasion threat, Taiwan is making concerted efforts to modernize its military and add more cutting-edge weapons to its arsenal. Thus, missiles like Harpoons and the SPAM-ER are indispensable.