A file photo shows former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou trying out a model of the Kestrel anti-armor rocket launcher. Photo: Handout

In a move that may shore up the profitability of Taiwan’s own defense industry, the Marine Corps of the Taiwanese Army, the island’s military police and the coast guard are all considering placing large orders for weapons produced in Taiwan.

On their shopping lists are the Kestrel anti-armor rocket launchers developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, a key national lab under the Defense Ministry’s Armaments Bureau.

The Kestrel rocket launcher is a portable, shoulder-launched, single-shot anti-armor weapon that fires either a high-explosive anti-tank warhead to engage light-to-medium-armored vehicles or a squash head against buildings or fixed structures.

The Taiwanese military tends to favor foreign weapons systems with proven combat performance, especially those from the US, for both operational reasons and a lack of faith in the reliability of the locally made alternatives.

It took the Kestrel rocket launcher years to gain trust from the marines, the Taipei Times reported, and was inspired after the corps placed a small order with the Chungshan Institute because urgent operational needs.

Now the Military Police Command has set aside almost NT$50 million (US$1.63 million) out of its budget for the next financial year to purchase 445 such launchers – among them, 279 training launchers and eight simulators – to arm units tasked with defending Taipei.

The lightweight, close-range systems could be useful in defending the island’s capital in street combat in the event of an invasion by the People’s Liberation Army.

The purchase of the Kestrel system would enable the army and the military police to defend Taipei and VIPs better against airborne or special-operations assaults by invading Chinese soldiers, a defense official told the Taipei Times.

The corresponding figures for the Coast Guard Administration are NT$11.12 million for 84 launchers and 88 simulators for the use of the battalions garrisoned on the Taiwan-controlled Pratas and Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

As a weapon designed to be operated by a single soldier, the Kestrel’s tactical role is similar to that of the American M72, which is a light, mobile weapon for infantry soldiers.

The TOW-2A/B anti-tank guided missile launcher – the military’s other standard-issue anti-armor weapon bought from the US – boosts greater lethal power and a longer range, but it is heavier and typically mounted on vehicles or attack helicopters.