Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald fires a Harpoon missile during a live-fire drill. Fitzgerald is on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Patrick Dionne)

Completely ignoring threats from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, who warned the United States to stop relevant arms sales and military connections with Taiwan, the US State Department sanctioned the sale of up to 400 Boeing-produced Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

“China will take legitimate and necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests with firm determination,” Wang said — but that didn’t seem to affect the US, which also approved three major new arms deals days earlier.

All told, major thorns in the side of Beijing, which must make the next move on the Indo-Pacific chessboard.

Should the sale proceed as planned, Taiwan would have a highly survivable counter to any potential naval assault by forces from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which has in the past threatened to invade and continues to rattle its imposing military sabre, The War Zone reported.

On October 26, 2020, the US State Department notified Congress of the possible Foreign Military Sale, officially for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, since Washington has no formal relations with Taiwan’s government.

The deal, valued at around US$2.37 billion, still requires Congressional approval, and its exact terms could still be subject to change, The War Zone reported.

The announcement comes around five months after Taiwan publicly declared it was looking to buy ground-launched Harpoons and mobile launchers.

Chinese fighter jets and bombers have entered Taiwan’s air defense zone with increasing frequency in recent months, while propaganda films have shown simulated attacks on Taiwan-like territories, NDTV reported.

Looking at it in detail, the package includes up to 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems (HCDS) and related equipment, including up to 400 RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II surface-launched anti-ship missiles, plus four RTM-84L-4 training rounds, The War Zone reported.

Also included are 100 HCDS Launcher Transporter Units and 25 radar trucks.

In addition — and this will really piss off China — Taiwan would receive various spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training, and training equipment, plus … US government and contractor representatives’ technical assistance, engineering and logistics support services.

While the Harpoon may lack the extreme speed or low-observable features of the most advanced anti-ship missiles on offer today, in its Block II form it is still a very capable weapon that offers Taiwan a proven and relatively low-cost answer to coastal defense, The War Zone reported.

Borrowing technology from the Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and the Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), the Block II missile includes a GPS receiver and advanced flight-control system to navigate its way to its target more precisely even in complex littoral environments.

It also features a two-way data link that allows the missile to be retargeted mid-flight. The 500-pound warhead can be used against both maritime targets and those on land.

The Harpoon is radar-guided, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage being it can operate in any weather, but its radar emissions can be detected by the enemy and potentially jammed, The War Zone reported.

Sailors assigned to the “Skinny Dragons” of Patrol Squadron 4 load a Harpoon missile onto a P-8A Poseidon aircraft during a proficiency exercise at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Juan S. Sua)

“The United States maintains an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and considers the security of Taiwan central to the security and stability of the broader Indo-Pacific region,” a US official told Voice of America.

As well as seeking significant numbers of land-based Harpoons, Taiwan has also been making other efforts to expand its anti-shipping capabilities, including new minelaying ships and F-16 fighter jets armed with air-launched Harpoon missiles.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese mainland military expert, told the Global Times that “the US missiles could bring some threats to the PLA if war breaks out.

“This is more proof that the US has violated its promises made in the three joint communiques with the People’s Republic of China to gradually reduce its arms sales to Taiwan,” he added.

“The threat that these Harpoon missile poses to the PLA is very limited, as they are high subsonic missiles designed in the 1980s, and the current self-defense and anti-missile facilities installed by the PLA on its vessels and land-based bases can shoot them down easily,” he claimed.

However, considering the land-based Harpoon system can be mounted on flatbed trucks, finding and killing the launchers themselves would likely prove extremely challenging for enemy forces.

As much as Chinese officials would like to marginalize the threat, the Harpoon deal, if it goes through, would pose a major problem for invading forces — possibly buying time for allied forces to respond in kind.

With constant US carrier groups and nuclear submarines in the region, weapon laden B-1 bombers and Marine Corps units, let’s just say it would not be pretty.