The island nation of Taiwan eventually changed its focus from reclaiming mainland China to defense of its own territory from a Chinese amphibious invasion. This decision went on to influence the direction (and budget) of the Army in the new millennium and has resulted in several notable indigenous projects including a 4th Generation fighter, various small arms and armored vehicles.
The Thunderbolt-2000 represents another product in this shift-in-thinking and represents a self-propelled, Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS) vehicle for the Taiwanese Army. The design (by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology) was debuted in the 1997 Han Kuang Exercise and has since been ordered in number with service entry occurring in 2010.
Rocket artillery has played a major role in modern land warfare since the days of World War 2 (1939-1945) when the Soviets favored the weapon against dug-in German foes along the East Front. Today, the MLRS represents this mobile weapon type and all major military powers (and even lesser ones) employ such systems as economic area-suppression measures which also provide a level of psychological warfare upon the enemy.
The prototype Thunderbolt-2000 was built atop the American Oshkosh M977 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck series vehicle and, when this design was proven sound, the finalized product remerged through the German MAN HX81 8x8 wheeled heavy truck. The Army secured a batch contract order for fifty-seven vehicles which began delivery in the late 2000s.
The hull and chassis features a forward cab and rear-set flatbed to which the launcher component is seated. The launcher is given full 360-degree traversal with built-in elevation capability allowing the unit to aim in the direction of fire without the vehicle having to be turned. The 8x8 wheeled arrangement is divided into two sections of two axles each to displace weight and support legs are lowered prior to firing to help stabilize the vehicle. Ground clearance is excellent and, coupled to a full suspension system, allows for cross-country travel and keeping up with the main fighting force. The launcher unit is modular and can support variable warhead types depending on mission need. This includes the standard 60-round 117mm Mk 15 fit, the 27-round 180mm Mk 30 fit and the 12-round 227mm Mk 45 fit. Targetable ranges are 15km, 30km and 45km respectively. Reloading is by way of accompanying resupply vehicles.
Currently (2016), each Army company sees one battalion of these vehicles offering considerable firepower at range against approaching enemy forces. The quick set-up and firing functionality of the system ensures some level of self-survival as the crew can fire before relocating to a new position, reload and fire another salvo in short order. Rockets can be fired singly or as a whole salvo.
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