Thursday, February 11, 2010

Taipei Gets $6 Billion Arms Package Despite Beijing Threats

Defense News


Taipei Gets $6 Billion Arms Package Despite Beijing Threats

By Wendell Minnick

SINGAPORE - Taiwan has secured a $6 billion arms package from the U.S. that includes new missiles, helicopters and naval vessels.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) released Congressional notifications for the arms package on Jan. 29, just two weeks before the Chinese New Year.

Beijing has expressed outrage and threatened sanctions against U.S. companies connected with the sale. Chinese officials have also indicated the sale would damage military-to-military relations with the U.S.

There are also concerns China could provoke the U.S. militarily. After the release of a $6.4 billion arms sale by Washington in October 2008, there were several naval incidents involving U.S. and Chinese vessels.

This is the first Congressional notification released by the Obama administration, and there have been no new arms deals since President George W. Bush left office. The package contains legacy items held over from the Bush administration.

Package items include:

* 60 UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters: $3.1 billion

* 114 Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missiles: $2.81 billion

* 60 Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems (MIDS): $340 million

* 2 refurbished Osprey-class Mine Hunting Ships: $105 million

* 12 Harpoon training missiles: $37 million

"The administration's long-awaited decision on arms sales was a positive demonstration of U.S. support for Taiwan and its defense," said Mark Stokes, a former Pentagon official responsible for Taiwan. "The decision should give China an opportunity to consider renouncing the use of force to resolve its differences with Taiwan and take tangible steps toward reducing its military posture directed against the island."

Chinese threats to punish U.S. defense companies selling arms to Taiwan places U.S. companies in a difficult position. The sale falls under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program office of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) and U.S. companies often have little choice but to comply.

U.S. defense companies Boeing, General Electric Aircraft, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Sikorsky were all named as principle contractors in the Congressional notification.

"I think the threats will have some effect on corporate calculations," said Larry Wortzel, vice chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. "But those companies would have thought about that already, or they would not have provided the price and availability data to DSCA, AIT [American Institute in Taiwan] and the Taiwan MoD [Ministry of Defense]."

Wortzel said recent debate in the U.S. government to loosen export controls on defense items to China could be an effort to appease Beijing on the release of arms to Taipei. However, China does not seem to notice.

"If that was part of an Obama administration calculation, the nuance and timing were clearly lost on Beijing," he said. "Of course, those export controls are what limits a lot of what Boeing and Sikorsky can do in China anyway. But if the PBSC [Politburo Standing Committee] and CMC [Central Military Commission) are really pissed, they'll just buy European or Russian even if [U.S.] export controls are loosened.

Missing from the deal was a submarine design/feasibility study promised by the Bush administration. In 2001, Washington offered Taiwan eight diesel submarines, but political issues and locating a builder delayed the sale. The submarine program is divided into two phases - design/feasibility (phase one) and manufacturing (phase two).

"The absence of submarines in the package should send a signal. If Taiwan is serious about submarines, then its time that a political decision be made to embark on a domestic program," Stokes said, now executive director of the Washington-based Project 2049 Institute.

However, many in Taipei and Washington do not think Taiwan has the technical capability to build submarines.

Taiwan has also been pushing for the release of 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters to replace aging F-5E/F Tigers. Since 2006 the U.S. has continually turned down Taiwan's request for price and availability data. Chinese officials have called the sale of new F-16s to Taiwan a "red line."

The Black Hawk helicopter issue became an urgent case in Taiwan after a typhoon killed over 500 in the central part of the island in August. Taiwan's ageing UH-1H "Huey" utility helicopters were unable to respond to the emergency adequately and U.S Navy helicopters were flown into the disaster area to provide assistance.

The 60 UH-60M Black Hawks will be equipped with T-700-GE-701D engines. Sikorsky and General Electric Aircraft are the principle contractors. Also included in the package are communications and data link systems connected to Taiwan's efforts to upgrade its C4I capabilities under the Po Sheng program.

Also part of the Po Sheng upgrade program is the release of 35 MIDS/Low Volume Terminals-1 and 25 MIDS On Ships Terminals. Taiwan has eight Perry-class frigates, eight Knox-class frigates and four Kidd-class destroyers.

The PAC-3 package includes 114 missiles and three AN/MPQ-65 radar sets. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are the principle contractors. The release completes a partial PAC-3 package approved in October 2008 by the Bush administration. The PAC-3s will be deployed in central and southern Taiwan to counter China's growing ballistic missile threat now numbering 1,400 missiles.

Taiwan's navy has been waiting for the release of two Osprey-class Mine Hunting Ships since 2001. The deal will include an overhaul of the AN/SQQ-32 sonar. A Chinese naval blockade using sea mines has been a concern in Taiwan since the early 1990s.

The Harpoon portion of the package only contains training missiles, two ATM-84L and ten RTM-84L missiles. The prime contractor is McDonnell Douglas, a Boeing subsidiary. Taiwan uses both ship-based and aircraft-launched Harpoon missiles. These missiles are supplemented by Taiwan's locally designed and built Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind) anti-ship missiles, which are deployed along the western coast of the island and outfitted on naval vessels.