The Republic of China Armed Forces Thunderbolt-2000 Multiple Barrel Rocket Launcher System which was designed to counter potential amphibious and sea attacks from the People’s Liberation Army, exploded during a live-fire combat drill in the southeast of the island on Monday.
The Thunderbolt-2000 is produced by National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, one of the Taiwan’s largest weapon manufacturer. The MBRL was firing a rocket during an army drill in the Jiupeng area near Manzhou township when the explosion occurred, according to the Taiwan defence ministry.
“The rocket was jammed for an unknown reason when it was launched,” said a spokesman of the Fourth Military Operation Zone based in southern Taiwan.
According to a detailed report published in South China Morning Post, – “No officers and soldiers involved in the drill were injured in this explosion”. The Chung-Shan Institute and the Taiwan’s army had set up an investigation task force to determine the cause of the incident to prevent such accidents in future firing drills and training missions.
It was not immediately known if the incident was linked to a magnitude-6 earthquake that shook eastern Taiwan on Monday morning. Some residents in Manzhou claimed the explosion occurred at around the time the earthquake rocked the eastern county of Hualien.
Local news media reports said residents there first heard a loud blast and then saw a mass of smoke from the drill site. The army then suspended the drill, the reports said.
It is the first such incident involving the Thunderbolt since it was commissioned by the army’s rocket squadron in 2012. The Thunderbolt-2000, which can help enhance the firepower of traditional tube artillery, is designed to fight off amphibious assault landing craft and other warships that could be sent by the People’s Liberation Army to attack the island.
Along with a self-reload crane, it can be mounted to the rear of a high mobility 8×8 cargo truck. The launcher can be equipped with pods of unguided surface-to-surface rockets. The design of a sealed rocket pod ensures rapid reloading and lowers maintenance and storage requirements.
With a fully automatic fire control system, the Thunderbolt uses three types of rockets with high explosive or cluster warheads – the Mk15, Mk30 and Mk45 which have a maximum range of 15km (9.3 miles), 30km and 45km, respectively – and are capable of hitting the mainland province of Fujian from Taiwan’s defence outposts of Quemoy and Matsu.