After the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the United States has been re-examining the capabilities of the Taiwanese military to determine whether it can fight off an invasion initiated by mainland China.
The US suggested Taiwan buy more precision weapons to boost its “asymmetric defense capabilities,” instead of conventional arms such as helicopters and tanks. Such a move has resulted in the recent changes in Taiwan’s arms purchase decisions.
Besides, Taiwan is also suffering from the delay in the delivery of US weapons as the American supply chain was disrupted by the pandemic in the past two years. (Translator’s summary)
The Taiwan authorities have recently changed their minds about their purchases of United States weapons. After the cancellation of the MH-60R Seahawk anti-submarine helicopter deal, the planned purchase of M109A6 self-propelled howitzers also was scrapped due to late delivery. At the same time, the delivery of American Stinger missiles to Taiwan also was delayed.
The US government is always enthusiastic about militarizing Taiwan. Why has it lost its disposition to sell weapons to the island? The Taiwan authorities explained that it canceled the arms sales because of the weapons’ high price and late delivery, not because of American rejection. They said it was entirely Taiwan’s own decision.
However, this does not seem to be the case. Citing nine sources in the US and Taiwan, The New York Times reported on May 7 that the Biden administration did not reduce arms sales to Taiwan but “quietly” pressed the Taiwan authorities to buy more US weapons that could help Taiwan “repel a seaborne invasion by China, rather than weapons designed for conventional set-piece warfare.”
This seems to have become an important theme of US officials regarding Taiwan in the recent period. During hearings on the US State Department’s 2023 fiscal year budget request last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called for the Taiwan authorities to strengthen so-called “asymmetric defense capabilities.”
According to The New York Times, both the US and Taiwan authorities were convinced by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict that “mainland China may launch an attack on Taiwan in the next few years” while a small army could repel a more powerful enemy if it has “the right weapons” and adopts an “asymmetric combat strategy” that highlights mobility and precision. Besides, US officials are re-examining the capabilities of the Taiwanese military to determine whether it can fight off an invasion initiated by mainland China.
To put it bluntly in translation, the “asymmetric warfare” mentioned by the US officials refers to the ability of a small army to resist large-scale attacks with advanced and targeted US weapons and strategies. The US has determined that some of the weapons that Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense demanded are no longer suitable for fighting against the People’s Liberation Army, such as the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
In fact, it was reported as early as March that the US State Department had written to the Taiwan authorities and rejected the helicopter deal on the grounds that it “does not conform to the principle of asymmetric combat power.”
However, Chiu Kuo-cheng, Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense, did not confirm the news at that time. He said he had not received any notification from the US. But he added that if there was an unexpected situation, Taiwan would adjust the deal, rather than stop it halfway through.
This is not the only US arms deal with the Taiwan authorities that has collapsed. Before this, the purchase of M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers was canceled. Chiu said that the US should have started delivery in 2023, but it was delayed until after 2026, so Taiwan decided to cancel the purchase.
According to The New York Times, US officials warned Taiwan authorities that the State Department would reject some arm purchase requests (such as MH-60R helicopters). They also reminded US arms manufacturers not to submit any proposal for selling certain weapons to Taiwan. They said the procurement process was complex and might involve too many parties.
Recently, US Senator Roger Wicker and other officials once again have started to promote the “porcupine strategy.” On May 4, he wrote [with Phil Gramm in the Wall Street Journal]: “Any wolf has the ability to kill a gentle porcupine. And yet such an attack virtually never occurs in nature. The defense of the porcupine’s quills, which can rip through the predator’s mouth and throat, is the deterrent that protects the small creature in the violent woods. Through the force-multiplying miracle of modern weapons, we can help make Taiwan a porcupine and deter aggression”
The New York Times also stated that the Republicans and Democrats in the US had reached a consensus: One lesson that can be learned from the Ukraine war is that the US must help the Taiwan authorities turn into a “porcupine” to prevent potential attacks from mainland China.
A US State Department representative said in a statement: “Continuing to pursue systems that will not meaningfully contribute to an effective defense strategy is inconsistent with the evolving security threat that Taiwan faces. As such, the US strongly supports Taiwan’s efforts to implement an asymmetric defense strategy.”
Another State Department official said Biden had been in talks with Taiwan authorities about weapons shortly after he took office, and both sides were now studying the lessons learned from the Ukraine war.
However, the Taiwan authorities do not fully agree with the so-called “asymmetric warfare” strategy suggested by the US. The New York Times said some recent purchases by the Taiwan authorities were in line with the “asymmetric defense strategy” but some Taiwan officials still asked the US government to provide expensive conventional weapons, such as Abrams tanks. The Taiwan authorities said the island needed some traditional weapons to deal with different combat scenarios.
“We have accepted many of the recommendations from the US, but we still need to have some space to make preparations for the possibility of other, longer-term scenarios,” Chieh Chung, a security analyst with the National Policy Foundation in Taipei, was quoted as saying in the New York Times report.
Chieh said he was worried that the Ukraine war had caused Washington to focus too much on the concepts of “asymmetric defense” and forget Taiwan’s actual needs, such as the upgrade of its old artillery systems.
According to the statistics released by the US’ Defense News last month, the Taiwan authorities have spent nearly US$17 billion to purchase US weapons since 2019 but about US$14.2 billion of them are still pending delivery due to “the supply chain, labor shortages and delivery delays caused by the pandemic.” They include Patriot missile system parts, Stinger missiles, and MK-48AT heavy torpedoes.
This article first appeared in Guancha.cn (“Observer”), a Chinese-language news and opinion site, of which Ju Feng is a military columnist. It is translated and republished with permission.