US Seeks Taiwan Technology as Island Nation Struggles with its Defense Costs

In March, five representatives of the US DOD arrived in Taipei to help smooth the way for a first time sale of Taiwanese weapons technology to the US. The representatives from the US Army, Navy, and Air Force met with officials from the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense and Taiwanese weapons contractors. This visit – the first to Taiwan -- is the latest manifestation of Foreign Comparative Testing Program, established in 1980, for the US to identify foreign weapons technology that it can use more quickly and cheaply than a US-created alternative. The program identifies mature foreign technologies that can be easily transferred to the US military and since its inception the US has spent approximately $6 billion abroad. The latest mission to Taiwan was not to buy specific systems at this time, but to identify Taiwanese systems for potential future acquisition several years down the road. Mentioned specifically was the need of the US Special Operations Command (Tampa, FL), which manages acquisition and logistics of anti-terrorism weapons and systems for US commands worldwide. A group spokesman declined to comment on the rumor that they had brought with them a list of more than 300 items, including aircraft components, ammunition, laptop computers, satellite telephones, and infrared equipment.

Unstated but likely a substantial part of this visit is the message it sends to Beijing, as China is now publicly discussing passing a law that would specifically outlaw Taiwan independence as it ramps-up its most recent rhetoric against Taiwan independence. The recently convened annual session of China's rubber-stamp parliament began its session with discussion of a bill many believe lays the legal groundwork for a future military invasion of the island. In response, thousands of Taiwanese demonstrated against the "anti-secession" law expected to be approved by China's National People's Congress before the end of the month.

In synchronistically reported news, the Political Warfare Department of the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense has taken the opportunity of a new legislative session in Taipei to increase pressure for passage of a nearly $20 billion bill to pay for US weapons that have been held on the back burner since 2000. A government spokesman noted that Beijing has just announced a 12.5% increase in its annual military spending.

A Ministry spokesman – using a rather arcane ranking system – claims that in order to ensure continued Taiwanese freedom from outside aggression, his country must spend at least two-thirds as much of an increase as a potential aggressor in order to have a fighting chance of winning an armed conflict. To date, Taiwan remains far behind this ratio with China. However, the Ministry undoubtedly did itself no favors by continuing its pitch with the argument that defense issues may be just too important for a vote in the national legislature – a statement sure to inflame opposition to such a defense bill, which would provide to the island nation such weapons systems as the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile, 12 P-3C maritime patrol aircraft, and up to eight desperately needed modern air-independent propulsion submarines. The Ministry is going full bore with a three part effort in its campaign. It is not only brow-beating the legislature and individual legislators but also going directly to the public in print and on TV with such slogans as “one cup a day,” referring to an argument that if each Taiwanese foregoes just one cup of tea a day, that money would help in un-stalling the proposed weapons purchases.

Opposition legislators have countered by asking the Ministry to start by cutting the $20 billion by up to one-third.

China – against the background of its increasingly flammable warnings against Taiwanese sovereignty -- may succeed in doing more to boost Taiwan’s weapons budget than could the Taiwan Ministry of Defense and the US DOD alone.

Taiwan still hopes to add eight modern subs to its navy to complement its two Zwaardis-class boats