The emergence of the CEFVs also makes the defense of the Penghu Islands much more difficult, as defending forces would face reinforced high-speed armored assault firepower. Once the Penghus are taken, the CEFVs and other heavy hovercraft may very likely be employed to launch beyond-vision landing assaults on Taiwan Island without the escort of landing craft.
The latest Han Glory 23 war games, carried out in Taiwan in December, reveal that the long-range artillery firepower of the Taiwanese ground forces comprises mainly the Ray Ting 2000 (Thunder 2000) serial multi-barrel rocket launchers (MRLSs) and other artillery guns. Ray Ting 2000 can use both 117-mm and 227-mm caliber ammunition.
The 117-mm Mk15 has a range of 15 kilometers, while the 227-mm Mk30 system has a range of 30 kilometers. The Mk45 has a range of 45 kilometers and is the most powerful rocket gun system of the Taiwanese ground forces. Unlike China, Taiwan has not developed WS-1B and WS-2 rocket launchers, which have a range of 180-200 kilometers.
The Taiwanese ground forces have traditionally relied on the Ray Ting 2000 launchers to hold back Chinese joint-landing assaults. The appearance of the CEFVs, however, has made even the strike range of the Gong Feng 2000 Mk45 slightly insufficient.
The second layer of firepower of the Taiwanese ground forces' anti-landing assault troops comprises the Ray Ting 2000 Mk30 and Mk15. The Mk30 is nine-barreled and the Mk15 is 20-barreled, which will be used to interdict and paralyze the firepower of the other side.
The third layer of firepower of the Taiwanese ground forces comprises the 117-mm Gong Feng 6 MRLSs. These have a range of 15 kilometers and a firing rate of up to 45 rounds per 22.5 seconds, and are the mainstay equipment of the Taiwanese artillery force.
In the Han Glory 23 war games, the artillery assaults in the anti-beachhead landing operations at Haikou were launched mainly by M109A2/5 155-mm self-propelled guns (SPGs) and M110A2 203-mm SPGs. The M109A2/5 155-mm SPGs have ranges of 24 kilometers and 30 kilometers respectively, depending on the ammunition, and firing rates of 3-6 and 4 rounds per minute.
These two types of M109 SPGs are deployed at positions close to the coast, and would probably be combined with the firepower of the Ray Ting 2000 Mk30 launchers to establish a second layer of interdiction.
In terms of combat mission assignments, the Ray Ting 2000 MRLS will launch wide-area firepower, while the M109A2/A5 will launch precision strikes upon targets with M-712 Copperhead laser-guided projectiles. The M-712 has a maximum range of 16 kilometers. The Taiwanese forces normally use OH-58 helicopters to hit targets from the air. The appearance of this helicopter indicates that M-712 LGPs will likely be fired.
In exercises held in Haikou in 2007, CM-11 main battle tanks (MBTs) were employed to engage in beachhead armored battles. Some of these CM-11 tanks were deployed at the forefront for mobile assaults; others were deployed in fixed positions to fire directly at the enemy. This is the final layer of firepower that would be used in an attack on landing armored vehicles.
Before this stage, anti-armored vehicle missiles called Tows can also be fired from coast-based jeeps and M113A1 armored vehicles. Both Chinese 63-A amphibious tanks and the new CEFVs are equipped with 105-mm guns, so the CM11/12 MBTs do not have any advantage in terms of firepower. Nonetheless, the CM11/12s have superior capability to protect themselves from hits.
In almost all of Taiwan's previous Han Glory war games, HA-1W Cobra combat helicopters were employed to launch attacks on seaborne targets with AGM-114C anti-armor missiles. In a possible scenario in which the Chinese side would use ground-to-ground missiles, cruise missiles and probably Z9-G and Z-10 combat helicopters in a battle for control of the air space, the Taiwan side might experience huge losses of its Cobra helicopters.
As a consequence, if the Chinese forces were to deploy large numbers of Type 63As and CEFVs, Taiwan's combat helicopter fleets might not be sufficient to deal with such large-scale armored attacks.
In short, China's newly acquired capability to conduct beyond-vision landing operations will force the Taiwanese ground forces to adjust their existing firepower interdiction systems.
(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)