Taiwan has deployed a powerful multiple rocket launcher (MRL) on the outlying island of Matsu capable of hitting targets in China’s Fujian Province, reports are saying, less than two months after the launcher was made the centerpiece of the annual Han Kuang military exercises.
Located less than 1 km from the coast of Fujian, the Matsu group of islets — there are 36 in total — have served as a forward defense for Taiwan’s military and a key interception point against Chinese amphibious forces. About 5,000 Taiwanese soldiers are deployed on the islands, from a peak of approximately 50,000 during the Cold War. The steady drop in military personnel there can be attributed in part to improving relations between Taipei and Beijing in recent years.
But aware that Beijing has not abandoned the military option to “retake” the democratic island of 23 million people, the Taiwanese military has continued to modernize its defenses while strengthening its deterrent capabilities.
According to Taiwanese media, schema provided by Matsu Defense Command to international media during a recent visit to the island inadvertently confirmed the deployment of the Ray Ting-2000 (“Thunderbolt 2000”) MRL by showing artillery ranges that went well beyond that of artillery pieces deployed on the islands, specifically 240 mm howitzers M1, which can reach targets about 23 km inside China. The schema presented to journalists showed targets 40 km inland, including the Huangqi Peninsula, the entire Minjiang estuary, as well as Pingtan and beyond.
The Taiwanese Army is procuring a total of approximately 50 of the domestically built RT-2000 MRL as part of a US$483 million program. Designed by the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), the road-mobile RT-2000 entered full service sometime in late 2012 and can fire 40 rockets per minute at a range of 15 km to 45 km, depending on the type of rocket used (MK15, MK30 or MK45). An Army official told this author during the Han Kuang exercise on the outlying island of Penghu in April that 40 systems are currently in operation, though he would not confirm their location.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, which has a policy of not discussing deployments, has refused to confirm the presence of RT-2000 systems on Matsu. However, in 2006, former Minister of National Defense Lee Jye argued that Taiwan had insufficient firepower on its outlying islands and recommended that the Army’s 30-year-old rocket systems, which are in the process of being phased out, be replaced by the RT-2000.
The RT-2000 was designed to conduct anti-landing operations, among other duties.
While the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has expanded its list of options to invade Taiwan, an amphibious assault against major outlying islands, if not Taiwan proper (a much more challenging task), remains a plausible scenario. As The Diplomat reported recently, the PLA is in the process of acquiring “Zubr” Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles, which would be suitable for such operations.