Monday, July 5, 2010

U.S. State Dept. Holds Arms Sales to Taiwan

Defense News


U.S. State Dept. Holds Arms Sales to Taiwan


TAIPEI — The U.S. State Department is holding all U.S. congressional notifications for new arms sales to Taiwan for 2010, said sources in Taipei and Washington, due to effective lobbying by Beijing.

“The Chinese are ramping up the pressure and engaging us in disinformation to complicate our review, particularly in the context of a vulnerable process for arms sales,” a Washington defense analyst said.

Three notifications, unidentified, are on hold until at least spring 2011, with more expected to “stack up” as 2010 ends, said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, Washington, here last week for a visit.

Taiwan is also pushing for the release of an F-16A/B midlife upgrade program, but that has not yet reached the notification stage, he said. The real concern is Taiwan’s request for 66 F-16C/D fighter aircraft, now on hold since 2006.

The Air Force has a mix of 387 indigenous, French and U.S.-built fighter aircraft: 145 F-16A/Bs, 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters, 56 Mirage 2000-5s and 60 aging F-5E/Fs.

The service is preparing to retire the F-5s in five years and mothballing the Mirage fighters within five to 10 years due to high maintenance costs. This will reduce the number of fighters to 271 at the same time China increases its fighter strength, said Mark Stokes, a China defense analyst at the Project 2049 Institute in Washington who also met with military officials here last week.

Chinese officials have called the release of new F-16s to Taiwan a “red line,” and yet it is unclear what China would do if the United States released the fighters. Despite the ambiguity of the risk, Washington is taking the threat seriously and arms sales are now “frozen” for this year, Hammond-Chambers said.

“The Chinese appear to believe they have killed the [F-16] sale by setting their own terms — that this is a ‘red line’ issue — with the administration accepting their interpretation that replacement F-16s is possibly a bridge too far, that the sale is somehow ‘different’ from other arms sales considerations,” he said. “If it’s ‘different,’ will the sale still be evaluated in the framework of the Taiwan Relations Act? Does the administration have a different process and framework in which it will evaluate the follow-on F-16 sale?”

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act guarantees continued arms sales to Taiwan in the face of China’s continued military threat.

Despite improved relations between China and Taiwan, Beijing has resisted calls for a reduction or redeployment of the more than 1,300 short­range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan.

However, China has stopped increasing the number of missiles “since the change of leadership” here, said Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, director­general of the Strategic Studies Department of the PLA’s National Defense University. Zhu was referring to 2008, when the Beijing-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) defeated the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in presidential and legislative elections.

Despite media reports last week that China was proposing a redeployment of missiles in exchange for Taipei abandoning Dongyin Island, a missile and surveillance base northeast of Matsu Island, there is no evidence Taiwan is considering turning the island fortress over to China.

Dongyin is considered a strategic asset and one of the military’s most fortified facilities. Tien Kung air defense missiles and Hsiung Feng anti-ship missiles are deployed there, along with two long­range radar systems and other surveillance equipment capable of seeing deep inside China.

With the coming closure of the F-16 production line at Lockheed Martin, the Chinese are employing a delaying action that will result in Taiwan missing the deadline for new orders, Hammond-Chambers said.

Taiwan Air Force and Ministry of National Defense officials live in a “fantasy world,” one U.S. defense analyst said: Military officials here have stated that if F-16 production closes, they will order F-35s. But the F-35 is unlikely to be available in time to replace the F-5 and Mirage, and there is widespread doubt the United States would risk selling a fifth-generation fighter to Taiwan.

Part of the problem is fear that China and Taiwan are growing too close, too quickly, the defense analyst said. They are preparing to sign a historic Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in Chongqing, China, on June 29.