Taiwan and US sign $146 Million deal for Volcano Anti-Tank mine laying system

According to information provided by Focus Taiwan on June 29, 2023, Taiwan has signed a $146 million deal with the United States to acquire 14 Volcano anti-tank munition-laying systems. The agreement, effective since June 21, states that the arms will be delivered before the end of 2029, as confirmed by Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND).
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A M-136 Volcano weapons system mounted on a M977A4 emplaces training mines (Picture source : DVIDS)

This follows the US State Department's approval of a proposed arms package valued at $180 million, which included vehicle-launched Volcano systems and M977A4 HEMTT cargo trucks. Although the details of the difference between the proposed package and the final deal are not provided, this agreement represents a significant step forward for Taiwan's defense capabilities.

Washington has historically been a significant source of military aid to Taiwan, in line with the Taiwan Relations Act passed in 1979. In terms of specific military aid, this has often taken the form of arms sales. The United States has sold Taiwan a variety of weapons systems over the years, including fighter jets, naval ships, and anti-missile systems. These arms sales are controversial and often met with strong protests from Beijing.

As tensions between Taiwan and China have been increasing over the past few years, there's growing debate in the U.S. and internationally about whether more should be done to deter a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan. This could involve more substantial military aid or even an adjustment of the U.S.'s strategic ambiguity to a more explicit defense commitment.

The Volcano anti-tank munition-laying systems offer a key advantage, according to Taiwan's Army Command Headquarters. These systems enable the rapid deployment of anti-tank mines over a large area, serving as a deterrent against potential amphibious landings.

The M136 Volcano is an automated mine delivery system that can swiftly deploy extensive minefields under various conditions using prepackaged canisters that contain anti-personnel (AP) and/or anti-tank (AT) mines. This system is utilized by armed forces around the world and can be mounted on aircraft (Air Volcano) or ground vehicles (Ground Volcano).

The Ground Volcano is specifically designed for deep and tactical minefields, utilizing the M139 Dispenser and an easy-to-use dispensing control unit (DCU). The system is quickly mountable and removable, and employs modified GATOR mines, available in live or inert canisters.

The Volcano mine system comprises three main components: M87A1 Anti-Tank (AT) munitions, M88 canister training munitions, and M89 training munitions.

The M87A1 Anti-Tank (AT) Munitions are employed to counter armored vehicles. Each M87A1 canister contains six AT mines and one AP mine. These mines have a diameter of 12 cm, a height of 6 cm, and approximately 605 grams of explosives. AP mines have an electrical fusing circuit triggered by a trip wire, deploying eight trip wires up to 12 meters from the mine upon ground impact. AT mines have a magnetically induced fuse, highly sensitive to movement once armed.

The M88 Canister Training Munitions consist of inert canisters with six training mines, allowing safe practice of Volcano's handling and deployment procedures.

The M89 Training Munitions are inert canisters for testing and diagnosing system faults, ensuring reliability and effectiveness during deployment and maintaining operational readiness.

The Oshkosh Defense HEMTT A4 M977A4 serves as the mount for the Volcano anti-tank munition-laying systems. It features an on-board crane with a 4,500-pound (2041 kg) load capacity. The truck has an anti-lock braking system, traction control, and air-ride suspension.

Each Volcano dispenser carries 960 anti-tank/anti-personnel mines and can create a minefield spanning 1,100 meters in length and 120 meters in width within four to 12 minutes. These mines also have a timed self-destruct feature.

It is powered by a diesel Caterpillar C15 engine delivering 500 horsepower. With a payload capacity of 21,561 pounds (9780 kg), it offers impressive hauling capability. The truck has an 8x8 axle configuration and a curb weight of 41,762 pounds (18943 kg). It can ford water up to 48 inches (1219 mm) deep and is air transportable. Optional features include a 20,000-pound (9072 kg) self-recovery winch and a Grove crane capable of lifting 2,500 pounds (1134 kg) at 19 feet (5.8 m).

During a January news conference, Lieutenant General Chang Yuan-hsun, Taiwan's Army Chief of Staff, discussed concerns about the mine-dispensing system potentially turning Taiwan into an "island of mines." He highlighted the military's strategic approach of swiftly laying landmines in specific beach areas based on intelligence about enemy landing points. This method aims to impede the advancement of enemy troops, enhancing Taiwan's defensive capabilities.

The successful completion of this arms deal highlights the ongoing efforts of Taiwan and the United States to strengthen their defense cooperation and ensure regional security.