Amid increasing Chinese aerial incursions and threats of reunification, Taiwan appears to be working on a new beyond-visual-range air-to-air weapon that looks similar to the European Meteor missile.
In January this year, Taiwan’s National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology’s Planning Department released a 50-volume Issue 1 cover with the theme, “Innovation and Development of National Defense Science and Technology Operations”.
According to a Taiwanese news outlet, the magazine reveals a new beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile called Tien-chien 3, also spelled as Tianjian III (Sky Sword III), that has capabilities similar to the US-made AIM-9X Block II.
It’s worth noting that the Chung-shan Institute, dubbed “the cradle of the island’s missile development”, has been collaborating with the military on short and medium-range missile development since the 1970s.
The missile, which is still at the conceptual stage was initially proposed to the Air Force in 2019, according to the report. The development of the missile was apparently stalled by the Air Force’s acquisition of other weapons, such as AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The missile’s nose cone is pointed, resembling a radio guidance radome in appearance.
The performance of the “Tien-chien 3” air-to-air missile will be enhanced to the “rear-fire” attack capability with large-angle off-axis flight. The weapon is expected to increase the air-to-air combat capability of the F-CK-1 Ching Kuo multirole Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF).
The development of a missile propulsion system with the inclusion of a vector nozzle, according to the institute, would allow the missile to make a large turn after launch, allowing it to undertake off-axis flight of the “back-fire” strike. Both Europe and the United States have this technology, making this relatively easier to obtain, the report said.
The missile could also be integrated with a data link system that is attached to a joint helmet-to-helmet aiming system, allowing it to correct the missile’s flight trajectory. It is also expected to have a lock after launch feature.
This element, however, necessitates the modification of the fighter’s fire control system and radar interfaces, making the system design difficult. The Taiwanese Air Force would not move forward with so many advanced functions until the institute presented a more detailed evaluation program.
The institute had its own performance improvement plans for all types of missiles on board IDF aircraft, the report added, but these had been postponed due to the air force’s other priorities, such as the “Sword Project.” In addition, the IDF fighter planes were restructured, increasing the number of Tien Chien II missiles on board from two to four.
Officially, the institute stated that it was a Meteor missile, but provided no other information. The institute created the entire range of Taiwan’s armament and converted it into military-style equipment.
The presence of a European weapon would undoubtedly raise suspicions. Meteor missiles can be launched by Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, and Saab JAS 39 Gripen.
Tien Chien II (TC2 or Sky Sword II)
The National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) concluded combat operational evaluations of an enhanced variant of the Sky Sword II air-to-air missile in August 2021, according to military officials.
The missile’s range was increased from 60 to 80 kilometers as part of ‘Project Running Sword’, which attempts to prevent Chinese military planes from flying too close to Taiwan.
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) also announced the mass production of the Sky Sword 2 missile with an extended range in August 2021.
The basic TC2 missile is 3.6 meters long and has a diameter of 190 millimeters, according to MND specifications. Its launch weight is 183 kilograms, which includes a 22 kg high explosive blast-fragmentation warhead.
The TC2 is a beyond visual range (BVR) active radar-guided air intercept missile with electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) capabilities. It can perform all-weather, all-aspect, fire-and-forget, multiple target engagement missions. Performance-wise, it can rival the US-made AIM-120 advanced medium-range AAM, according to the ministry.
Furthermore, during the early phase of flight, the missile is capable of using inertial navigation and can receive command updates from the launch aircraft via a datalink. For the final phase of an engagement, it uses its onboard active radar guidance.
The Taiwanese Navy announced in May 2021 that it has finished trials and tests of the new medium-range Hai Chien II (‘Sea Sword II’) air-defense missile, which will be used to arm the improved variant of Tuo Chiang (also spelled Tuo Jiang)-class fast missile corvettes.
The ‘Sea Sword II’ (also known as Tien Chien II N or ‘Sky Sword II N’) is a ship-launched derivative of the Tien Chien II air-to-air missile used by the F-CK-1 Ching Kuo multirole Indigenous Defence Fighter.