Friday, 14 September 2012

Taiwan takes delivery of first Thunderbolt rocket launcher

The Taiwanese army has taken delivery of its first indigenously-built Thunderbolt-2000 mobile rocket launcher system from the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology.

Under a $483 million contract, all 50 of the truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher systems are destined for the army's 21st Artillery Command, a report by The China Post said.

The wheeled Thunderbolts -- also called the Ray Ting 2000 -- will replace the army's Kung Feng VI 117mm rocket system, also built by the CIST and which entered service 30 years ago.

The CIST has been developing the Thunderbolt, a conventional multi-tube launcher, since 1997 for a quick-fire response to an amphibious assault before enemy landings take place, the Post said.

The launch system sits on an M977 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, an 8X8 off-road cargo vehicle built by Oshkosh, and can fire 40 rockets a minute, with a range of 28 miles and a circular error probability of less than 1 percent of the target.

It also needs only 8 minutes to be combat-ready, instead of around 16 minutes for other systems used by the army, the Post reported.

The system can use several types of rockets in various configurations -- including 60 tubes of 117mm rockets, 27 tubes of 180mm rockets and 12 tubes of 230mm rockets.

Introduction of the first Thunderbolt comes amid severe budget restraints for Taiwan's military.

Taipei also is grappling with reticence by the U.S. government to approve purchases of advanced equipment deemed essential by Taiwan's military.

Last month, a Taiwanese military spokesman denied media reports that Taiwan is pursuing a reduced order for F-16C/D jet fighters after being refused the purchase last year.

The official said there is no truth that Taiwan recently proposed to the United States that it buy 24 F-16C/D aircraft instead of the 66 it originally sought to purchase.

"There has absolutely been no such proposal," ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Shou-he told China News Agency.

Taiwan had been hoping to obtain 66 F-16C/Ds since 2006, despite Beijing's ongoing denunciations of the deal.

However, Taiwan's limited defense budget means it likely will see only 24 of the F-16C/D fighters, the Chinese-language newspaper China Times reported, quoting anonymous senior government sources.

China periodically warns of the destabilizing effect that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have on relations between Beijing and Washington.

An announcement by the United States in January 2010 that it would sell defense arms worth around $6.4 billion to Taiwan infuriated the Chinese government.

Beijing quickly announced it would review military exchanges with the United States, review co-operation on major issues and impose sanctions on companies selling arms, a report by the BBC said.

"Considering the severe harm and odious effect of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the Chinese side has decided to suspend planned mutual military visits," a Chinese Defense Ministry statement said at the time.

China's Xinhua state news agency quoted the defense ministry saying "we strongly demand that the United States respect the Chinese side's interests."

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