U.S. Prepares New Taiwan Arms Package Despite Beijing Hysterics
By Wendell Minnick
Taipei - The U.S. appears unwilling to stop selling arms to Taiwan despite aggressive lobbying and pressure from China.
Sources in Taipei and Washington have confirmed the United States is preparing the release of U.S. congressional notifications for new arms on hold since the Bush administration.
New notifications are expected soon, said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the Washington-based U.S.-Taiwan Business Council. These include 60 UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters, a submarine design study, phase two of the C4I/Link 16 "Po Sheng" program, two Osprey-class mine-hunter patrol boats, and additional Patriot PAC-3 missile defense systems.
Taiwan is facing about 1,400 short-range ballistic missiles from China and plans to deploy the new PAC-3s in the central and southern regions of Taiwan.
On submarines, Taiwan has been awaiting the release of congressional notifications since the Bush administration approved the sale of eight diesel submarines in 2001. A U.S. government source said they most likely would be smaller than conventional diesel attack submarines currently being deployed by China and other regional navies. Taiwan does not need deep submersibles due to the shallow waters of the Taiwan Strait, he said.
Taiwan has an urgent need for new utility helicopters to replace ageing UH-1H "Huey" helicopters procured during the 1980s. The requirement was highlighted during the recent Typhoon Morakot that killed more than 500 people in southern Taiwan in August.
Taiwan's Air Force also received a briefing from the U.S. Air Force on the General Atomics MQ-1C Sky Warrior tactical UAV in 2009. The Sky Warrior is an upgraded unarmed variant of the Predator. Taiwan's Air Force has a requirement for tactical UAVs to monitor sea lanes, coastal areas, disaster areas and conduct battlefield reconnaissance.
"USAF briefed on UAVs based upon Taiwan Air Force interest in building better ISR capabilities. They are in the info-gathering mode so nothing significant yet," said a U.S. government official.
Military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology has developed a variety of UAVs, but has been unable to fulfill an Air Force requirement for an advanced, extended-range, multipurpose UAV. However, the Army is considering the procurement of CSIST's Chung Shyang.
Taiwan will have a tough time balancing new procurement costs as it implements a major streamlining and command restructuring plan. There will also be strains on the military as it begins to phase out conscription for an all-volunteer system beginning in 2011 and targeted for completion in 2015.
The problem is money, said one Taiwan defense analyst. Taiwan's legislature recently approved a $9.2 billion defense budget, a drop from the 2009 budget of $9.9 billion and a further drop from the 2008 budget of $10.5 billion. Further declines are expected as the economy continues to shrink.
To complicate matters, the United States has been hesitant to release new arms as China's increasing political and economic influence in Washington expands. The noisiest complaint by China is Taiwan's request for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters to replace aging F-5s. Since 2006, the U.S. government has refused to accept Taiwan's letter-of-request for price and availability for new F-16s. Chinese officials have called any release of F-16s a "red line."
Taiwan's Air Force also has plans to upgrade its older F-16A/B and Indigenous Defense Fighters. The Navy has similar upgrade requirements that include refurbishing six French-built La Fayette-class frigates and two Dutch-built diesel submarines. Nien-Dzu "Andrew" Yang, deputy minister of defense for policy, has denied media reports the Navy wants to procure eight Perry-class frigates from the United States to replace eight Knox-class frigates.
Chen I-Hsin, vice president of the Foundation on Asia-Pacific Peace Studies, said Taiwan needs new U.S. arms to discourage China from becoming too aggressive. Even as cross-Strait relations improve, Taiwan still needs arms to allow Taipei to negotiate from a position of strength, he said.
Hammond-Chambers foresees further hysterics from China as the release of a new package of notifications draws near. "The Chinese are making hay in this vacuum as they raise the level of rhetoric in an attempt to spook the Obama administration into doing less in the future on Taiwan security issues," he said.
"The longer Mr. Obama delays the notifications the more shrill the Chinese will act. The delay is seen as weakness or a lack of commitment toward Taiwan."