Procurement: Taiwan Buys Time

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October 8,2008:  After nearly a decade of political bickering in both Taiwan and the United States, the Taiwanese government has officially asked for a $6.5 billion dollars in weapons, and the U.S. has agreed to deliver. The delays have had many causes. In Taiwan, there were local politicians against buying all that stuff because it was so expensive (and many Taiwanese believed that the U.S. would defend the island for free), or because there was fear that China would impair Taiwanese investments (nearly $50 billion dollars worth) on the mainland. On the U.S. side, there was sometimes reluctance to upset China. As a result, the sale has been put off since the late 1990s,

Meanwhile, Taiwan, increasingly anxious about China's military buildup, boosted its defense spending by about 15 percent this year (to $10.5 billion). Taiwan is buying anti-missile missiles and anti-submarine aircraft (U.S. P-3Cs). China spends four times as much on defense, to support about two million troops. Taiwan has only 350,000 troops, and a population of 23 million, compared to 1.3 billion on the mainland. Taiwans's GPD is $650 billion, compared to $2.7 trillion for China. Thus the per capital income of Taiwan is more than ten times that of the mainland. Taiwans military is based on the American model, with an emphasis on quality. China based its military on the Soviet model (where quantity has a quality all its own), although for decades the emphasis was on mobilizing a huge force of guerillas. Now China is trying to develop a force that can fight on Western terms (high tech operated by well trained troops.)

It's this new Chinese attitude that has galvanized Taiwan to complete the long delayed purchases from the United States. While many Taiwanese still see the United States as the ultimate guarantor of Taiwanese independence, they see China as increasingly capable of grabbing the island before the U.S. can intervene. So while the Taiwanese don't have to be strong enough to defeat a Chinese invasion, they do have to be strong enough to hold the Chinese back until American reinforcements can show up.

Thus about half the $6.5 billion package is for PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile missiles. These can knock down many of the 1,300 Chinese ballistic missiles aimed at the island. Taiwanese military planners have put themselves in the position of their Chinese counterparts, and noted that this many missiles could severely damage Taiwanese defenses, and do it very quickly. The other big weapon systems are AH-64D Apache helicopter gunships, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles. There is also half a billion dollars in upgrades, and spare parts, for existing warplanes.

The Chinese were very open, and loud, in their displeasure over this sale. Now their opportunity to grab Taiwan quickly is slipping away again.

 


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