Monday, July 25, 2005

The Arms Package for Taiwan: Protection Money?

Budding Sinologist over at MeiZhongTai just posted this comment on the previous post in response to my cynical comments on the arms package the Pentagon is pushing. While I completely agree that China is a threat, I disagree that this package is useful to Taiwan. It is being sold primarily to fertilize and water the soil of the US-Taiwan alliance.
What in the Pentagon report encouraged the "sale of militarily useless but politically necessary weapons to Taiwan"? I assume you mean the report somehow encouraged Taiwan to buy the weaponry that has been under debate recently. Even if that was the case, what makes the weapons militarily useless? Most first (and second) rate militaries the world over have found submarines to be an important weapon. An island threatened by a neighbor who threatens to place an embargo on your island (and is pursuing the capability) would seem to make such weaponry even more important. In light of that neighbor's growing underwater warfare capability, some ASW capability) might be helpful too (EP-3s and subs both fit this category). At what point does this become militarily useless? I worry that you have bought into the argument that the only reason for Taiwan to buy the weapons is to please America.
The weapons package was first announced in 2001. Here is it as originally announced, from Jane's.
  1. Four Kidd-class destroyers (currently mothballed). Further details of the Kidd-class destroyer are available here.
  2. Eight diesel-electric patrol submarines
  3. 12 P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft
  4. Paladin self-propelled howitzers
  5. MH-53E minesweeping helicopters
  6. AAV7A1 amphibious assault vehicles
  7. Avenger surface-to-air missiles
  8. Submarine- and surface-launched torpedoes
Some discussion of the original package is here. The package has mutated over the years, and has now become:

The arms package provides for the purchase of six PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems, eight conventional submarines and a fleet of submarine-hunting P-3C aircraft from the United States over a 15-year period beginning 2005.

Despite the other weapons offered, that is all the government is considering purchasing at the moment. Some of the weapons systems in that package have already been delivered.

Denny Roy notes:

The Bush administration's April 2001 arms sale offer was noteworthy for both its quantity and its quality. It was unusually large, including eight diesel-electric submarines, four Kidd-class guided missile destroyers, and twelve P-3C patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, along with 155 mm howitzers, minesweeping helicopters, torpedoes, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and amphibious assault vehicles. Particularly significant was the lifting of the ban on submarines, which many observers saw as a gesture of increased U.S. support for Taiwan. Since the April 2001 offer, U.S. officials have encouraged Taiwan to buy additional systems, including the Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile system, advanced ground-based and satellite-based radars, and a C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) network that would allow Taiwan's different armed services to share real-time data.

Budding Sinologist's analysis of the subs as anti-submarine weapons is interesting in light of the fact that for years the US has refused to sell subs to Taiwan because they are so obviously anti-shipping weapons that are unnecessary for the defense of Taiwan -- Taiwan has been asking for subs since 1982.

Since I've mentioned subs, let's point out a couple of salient facts. First, the subs do not actually exist. US shipyards do not have the capability to build them, and those nations that can, the Netherlands and Germany, will not sell them to Taiwan. Hence there has been some talk of building them in Taiwan, though Taiwan does not have the capability to build them completely.

Counting hardware and its applications is insufficient; the socio-technical context of weapon deployment must also be considered. The fact is that Taiwan currently has four submarines, two dating from WWII, and has no real experience in anti-submarine work with subsmarines. The weapons are deliverable over the next 15 years, not immediately from extant inventories, and it will be many years before they become operational and appropriate training is in place and absorbed. Surely $12 billion can be spent more effectively elsewhere -- on advanced aircraft, spare parts, command and control systems, hardening airfields and command and control sites, patrol craft and small attack craft, and so on.

The US has asked $12 billion for the submarines, or over $1 billion each. As the Roy piece above points out, critics in Taiwan have noted that similar subs generally market for about a third of that. The island had originally budgeted just $4.4 billion. Roy again with the call:
Cost has been a major sticking point. In November 2003, a Taiwan defense official argued that the price the United States was quoting for the eight submarines, now more than $12 billion, was "outrageously high." In contrast, South Korea, Pakistan and India reportedly built submarines based on a German design for $367 million, $317 million and $323 million apiece, respectively. Based on international market prices such as these, Taiwan's government in 2003 had allocated a budget of only $4.4 billion for the submarines.

Roy adds:

Analyst John J. Tkacik of the Heritage Foundation wrote in December 2003 that the "exorbitant" asking price also reflects the U.S. Navy's desire to squelch the deal. The Navy, says Tkacik, prefers nuclear to diesel submarines, and fears that reviving an American capability to build diesel submarines would lead to Congress demanding that the U.S. Navy purchase them as well.

The submarines, as offensive weapons, have to be looked at in the larger context of the US-Japan-Taiwan alliance to contain China. As Wendel Minnick note, a strong submarine force would make Taiwan an attractive strategic partner to Japan and the United States. Taiwan's acquisition of submarines would give it political and military bargaining power in the future. One is reminded of the argument over artillery in Lawrence of Arabia: "If you give them artillery, you'll be giving them a country." Something similar is at work with the submarines.

The Kidd-class destroyers are also a frank rip-off. Wendell Minnick, who writes on Asian defense affairs, discusses the purchase in a generally pro-purchase article for AmCham in Taiwan:

Considerable debate preceded Taiwan's decision to purchase the Kidds. Most of the controversy centered on the size of the ships. At 9,574-tonnes loaded with a 10-meter draught, the Kidds are twice as big as any other ship in Taiwan's fleet. There was genuine concern over where to berth the giants. Only Suao and Kaohsiung are deep enough to handle them. An additional argument was that the Kidds' massive size would serve as a disadvantage in the narrow and shallow waters of the Taiwan Straits, or even make them easier targets to hit.
Many within the Taiwan navy wanted to go straight to the acquisition of Aegis-equipped Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, eliminating the problem of trying to maintain four large Kidds and four additional Arleigh Burkes. However, the U.S. Navy insisted that the Kidds were a prerequisite to the Aegis. Basically, no Kidds, no possibility of moving up to Aegis.
The Kidds also do not make sense in light of other needs. Roy notes:

Some Taiwan naval planners, including former Taiwan Navy chief and Minister of Defense Wu Shih-wen, prefer a defense strategy based on smaller, faster missile-armed ships of 200 tons or less. The arguments in favor of small missile boats are that they carry nearly as much firepower as destroyers while being faster and more agile, cheaper to operate and less manpower-intensive. The Kidds are built for long ocean voyages, an unnecessary capability for Taiwan, and their size makes it difficult for Taiwan’s existing military ports to accommodate them.

In 2001 a PFP legislator announced that all of the Navy chiefs were against purchasing the Kidds.

On paper the P-3C anti-submarine aircraft look like a great idea. Taiwan needs them to replace their Bronze Age S-2 Trackers. Minnick explains some of the problems observed back in 2001:
The 12 P-3C Orion maritime-patrol aircraft included in the U.S. arms-sale offer are desperately needed by the Taiwan Navy to replace its aging fleet of Grumman S-2 Tracker maritime-patrol planes. The problem is that Lockheed Martin has not built new P-3s since 1990, and reopening the assembly line is not a serious option considering the exorbitant costs. The alternative involves acquiring refurbished P-3s, which would bring the price in line with Taiwan's budget. Such a deal would be similar to the proposed sale to South Korea of nine P-3B aircraft for an estimated US$66 million per unit.

[The P-3Cs are considered war-reserve aircraft, so the U.S. Congress must first declare them in excess before they can be available to FMS customers. Congress recently declared some P-3C aircraft to be excess, but most of the planes are not available.]
Minnick writes on the Patriot missiles:

The Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-missile system is critical for the defense of the military's facilities, especially air bases. China's Second Artillery Corps has about 600 Dong Feng 11 (M-11) and DF-15 (M-9) tactical ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. At present, Taiwan has only three Patriot-2 (PAC-2 Plus) units, with an inventory of 200 missiles, defending Taipei through installations at Linkou, Wanli, and Nankang. There is no coverage of central and southern Taiwan. This leaves most of Taiwan's air bases and ports vulnerable to multi-wave and multi-saturation missile attacks. Once the air bases and radar bases are destroyed, China could begin fighter and bomber aircraft sorties against remaining targets.

They probably are a good idea, but Taiwan needs several times what the current US offer is. The number of Patriot missiles being offered is 388. Against modified Scuds the previous version of the Patriot had a kill rate of 50%. While the PAC-III is probably better, assuming a 75% success rate, it knocks out about 300 incoming missiles, leaving the Chinese with 400. Not nearly enough. Taiwan needs at least 25 batteries of such missiles.

The minesweeping helicopters are a good idea too. The Chinese People's Daily makes the call:

Currently, Taiwan's annual foreign ocean shipping volume approaches 200 million tons, the majority of which are undertaken by several important ports in Kaohsiung, Keelung, Hualien and Su'ao, so whether sea-routes are smooth or not is vitally important to Taiwan. The depth of water in Taiwan's surrounding sea areas ranges mostly between 50-60 meters, this makes it easy for the large-scale deployment of mines. Hualien and Su'ao ports in the eastern part of Taiwan, in particular, because they face the vast Pacific Ocean, it is fairly hard to impose blockade by forces, it is more possible for blockade by dense mine formation.

Mine sweeping capabilities are absolutely crucial in the coming conflict. The agreement calls for the US to supply 12 of these units to Taiwan. Unfortunately the current reduced proposal does not appear to include these vital systems.

The Paladin howitzers are a fine idea and Taiwan has already begun to receive them. The deal is for 140 of the 155mm self-propelled guns, said to be the most advanced in the world. Mobile artillery will be vital for repelling landings, especially if the air is filled with missiles and enemy aircraft.

The AAV7A1 amphibious assault vehicles were a colossal waste of money. The idea of Taiwan carrying out amphibious operations during a serious conflict with China is absurd.

On the balance, the proposal's major units, the submarines and the Kidd-class destroyers, are a waste of money. Taiwan would be better off spending $12 billion to acquire advanced aircraft. At $50 million each, it could obtain 600 more aircraft for its defenses, which would help it far more than 8 submarines spread over 15 years. The smaller items are potentially useful, though, except for the amphibious units.

Hence, overall, I support the purchase because the US must be placated and Taiwan needs the US. It is a shame, however, that the deal does not address Taiwan's real defense needs.

I would just like to thank Budding Sinologist for the stimulus, for I have learned much from researching these items. For those interested, Global Security discusses Taiwan's defense budget trends here.

UPDATE: MeiZhongTai rebuts my post here.


Budding Sinologist said...

I have replied in a post entitled Protection Money?. I didn't dedicate as much time to this issue as I should have but I wanted to reply in a timely manner. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts.

Michael Turton said...

I'm sure you'll be happy to know that my position is not as adamantly against the package as it was before I began writing.


Craig Ferguson said...

Renegotiate. China will not (cannot?) do anything in the next 2 years. The 2008 Olympics are a big gain in face for China - they can't risk losing them, and the economic benifits that will follow. Plus, the US agreement to help defend Taiwan (although, if they continue to have problems in Iraq and/or decide to invade Iran or Syria, that may well be reneged upon).

So, Taiwan should use that 2 years to renogotiate the deal. As in - buy defences/weapons that are current, not obsolete. How they can do that, I've no idea. But agreeing with the US to scrap the deal, and finalising a new deal by 2007, with delivery by 2008 would be a big step.

Craig - Taiwan photoblog.