Taiwan Cooperates on Return of ICBM Components
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI - The United States received "absolutely fantastic cooperation from the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense, which enabled a rapid recovery" of four non-nuclear nose-cone assemblies and battery-powered electrical fuse assemblies for a Minuteman ballistic missile mistakenly shipped to Taiwan in the fall of 2006, a U.S. source said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates learned of the situation March 21 and immediately ordered that the United States regain "positive control" of the systems, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said. Gates also notified President George W. Bush.
"Within hours of us receiving the order to recover the item, Taiwan identified the location where the items were stored and allowed U.S. personnel to gain access and control," the source said. "Their cooperation did not stop there. At unprecedented speed, they approved flight clearance, which enabled us to transport the items back to the U.S. This event demonstrates the close relationship we enjoy and further strengthened the bond between our two militaries."
During a March 25 news conference, Wynne said there were "no nuclear or fissile materials associated with these items."
The Pentagon has initiated an investigation, but "preliminary information indicates that a shipment took place in response to a Foreign Military Sales order from Taiwan for helicopter batteries," Wynne said. "The Defense Logistics Agency mistakenly shipped these items instead of the requested batteries. The investigation will determine the integrity of the shipping containers and their contents during the Foreign Military Sales process."
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, expressed concern over the mistake.
"We express our serious concern and strong dissatisfaction with this and have made solemn representations to the American side," he said.
China opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and has been pressuring Washington to discontinue military support for the island.
Ryan Henry, the U.S. principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said during the press conference there were "no indications from a site inspection of the item that it has in any way been tampered with, but that will be part of the further investigation."
Henry also stated that the system "was built and designed in the '60s, and so therefore, the technology that is in there is quite dated."
The fuse, specifically designed for the Mark-12 nuclear warhead, sends an "electrical signal to the weapons package, which has its own triggering mechanism," Henry said. "It has to do with sensing proximity to the ground and saying when you get within a certain distance to the ground, it sends out the simple single signal."
Taiwan has no nuclear weapon program and no capability.
During the 1980s, the U.S. government uncovered and stopped Taiwan's nuclear weapon program during a CIA operation that recruited and evacuated one of Taiwan's key nuclear weapon scientists to the United States. Since then, Taiwan's declared policy has been no development of nuclear weapons.