U.S. Study Concludes Taiwan Needs New Arms
By Michael R. Gordon
York Times, Apr. 1, 2001
Taiwan — A confidential review by United States naval officers
has concluded that Taiwan needs a significant infusion of
new weapons, including a sophisticated ship-borne radar
system that China has put at the top of the list of arms
it does not want Taiwan to have.
assessment was carried out by officers from the United States
Pacific Fleet, who visited Taiwan to assess its naval requirements
in light of China's military buildup. While military factors
are not the only consideration, the still secret review
is an important element of the deliberations about whether
to sell Taiwan the radar system, known as Aegis, and other
decision on whether to sell naval, air force and army weapons,
which President Bush is expected to make in the next few
weeks, is one of the first major foreign policy tests for
his administration and could set the tone of United States-Chinese
relations for years to come.
has bitterly opposed the sale of sophisticated weapons,
which it fears will lead to a new degree of cooperation
between Taiwan and the United States and buttress pro-independence
sentiment on the island.
has singled out as particularly objectionable potential
sales of three types of weapons: the Navy's Aegis, which
China fears may provide the basis for an eventual antimissile
defense and blunt China's missile threat to the island;
the Army's advanced Patriot antimissile system known as
PAC-3; and submarines, which China maintains are offensive
weapons and which the United States has never before sold
to Taiwan. Taiwan has sought to buy submarines as well as
the Aegis and has also been in discussions about the new
addition to citing a need for the Aegis system by 2010,
the American naval officers who conducted the review concluded
that Taiwan also needed the Kidd-class destroyer as a stopgap.
And they cited the need for new submarines as well as an
underwater sonar array to detect Chinese subs. Besides the
naval review, similar studies have been carried out concerning
other parts of Taiwan's military.
pending decision on arms sales has split American China
hands, including those in the Republican Party, putting
pressure on Mr. Bush from both sides.
one side are policy experts who say it would be foolish
to pick a diplomatic fight with Beijing before the Bush
administration has a chance to begin a dialogue with the
leadership there. Washington's long- term interests, those
experts say, are best served by finding a way to engage
China, a nation of 1.3 billion people and a nuclear power
with a growing economy.
the other side are pro-Taiwan conservatives who insist that
the United States has a moral obligation to safeguard Taiwan,
a democratic nation of 22 million, from threats from the
Communist government in Beijing. The conservatives also
say that Washington should contain China's growing military
power in Asia.
there has been much discussion about China's growing force
of short-range ballistic missiles, Beijing has also deployed
new warplanes, destroyers, submarines, anti- ship missiles
and surface-to-air missiles, many of which it bought from
Russia. That has created a growing threat to Taiwan's aging
fleet, whose role is to protect the island from attack and
prevent a Chinese blockade.
review of Taiwan's naval needs was begun during the Clinton
administration. After Taiwan sought to buy four Arleigh
Burke-class destroyers equipped with the Aegis system, the
Clinton administration deferred a decision and asked for
a Pentagon assessment.
team of officers from the United States' Pacific Fleet inspected
Taiwan's navy. Their conclusions have circulated among officials
in Washington and Taiwan and have served as the basis for
a Pentagon report on "Taiwan naval modernization."
familiar with the officers' review say it concludes that
by 2010 Taiwan will need vessels equipped with long-range
surface-to-air missiles, a sophisticated battle management
system and a phased-array radar, which is the hallmark of
the Aegis system.
year 2010 is significant since it may take eight years or
more to agree on a configuration of the Aegis system for
Taiwan's navy, build the ship and integrate it into Taiwan's
fleet, according to American military specialists.
an interim step, the review suggests that Taiwan buy four
Kidd- class destroyers, which had most elements of the top
advanced air defense systems before the Aegis was developed.
The United States developed the destroyers for the shah
of Iran, but the sale was thwarted after the shah fell from
power. The ships were later used by the United States Navy
and were nicknamed "Ayatollah-class" destroyers,
but they have since been retired.
a recommendation that is certain to prove contentious, the
United States officers concluded that Taiwan needed new
submarines. Currently, Taiwan has only four, including two
Guppies of World War II vintage which it uses for training
and which cannot descend more than 150 feet.
review found that Taiwan needed an underwater sonar array
to alert it to the presence of Chinese submarines near its
ports and coasts. It also describes a need for a new maritime
aircraft to hunt for enemy submarines and conduct patrols,
alluding to the American P-3, which Taiwan also wants to
Aegis has been the center of much of the public debate,
which has not always been well informed. Unlike a rotating
radar antenna, the Aegis's four stationary arrays search
the sky electronically. The Aegis is designed to track more
than 200 targets, including sea-skimming missiles, and to
direct ship-fired missiles at them.
much of the discussion concerns the Aegis's potential as
an antimissile platform, the United States Navy has yet
to develop a sea- based theater antimissile system. And
even if it does develop such a missile defense, the type
of Aegis being considered for sale to Taiwan would not be
equipped with an interceptor able to counter the Chinese
ballistic missiles directed at Taiwan.
primary reason to sell the Aegis is to protect Taiwan's
fleet, and upgrading the Aegis to serve as a theater missile
defense would require a future decision in Washington. "There
is a fantastic mythology about the Aegis," said Kurt
Campbell, who led the Pentagon effort to improve Taiwan's
defense ability during the Clinton administration.
liberal critics have complained that the Aegis would have
an offensive capability because it would be armed with Tomahawk
land attack cruise missiles. But the variant that the Pentagon
is considering selling to Taiwan would not be equipped with
is something of a precedent for an Aegis sale. In an little
known episode, the United States offered to sell a scaled-back
version of the Aegis radar and command and control system
in 1992 and install it on Taiwan's Perry-class frigates.
Taiwan decided not to buy the system. That was before China
continued its buildup in the Taiwan Strait and sought to
pressure Taiwan by test-firing its ballistic missiles close
to the island in 1995 and 1996.
is not to say that there is unanimous agreement among military
experts, including those in Taiwan, about the Aegis. Advocates
of the system say it would provide Taiwan's fleet with the
best possible protection against Chinese antiship missiles
as well as a top-notch battle- management system. They say
it could even serve as a backup command post in the event
that Taiwan's land-based command posts were destroyed in
missile strikes from China.
cite its cost, $1 billion a ship, and the almost decade-long
delivery time. And they question whether the Taiwanese Navy
would be able to operate and maintain such a sophisticated
the political debate over the Aegis has heated up, some
analysts have speculated that the Kidd destroyers could
be the basis of a compromise that would enable the White
House to appear resolute while avoiding a rupture with Beijing.
selling the destroyers, the Bush administration could argue
that it was acting quickly to improve Taiwan's ability to
defend its fleet. The administration could then put Beijing
on notice that Washington would go ahead with the Aegis
sale next year unless China curtailed its military buildup
the value of the Kidds, Adm. Dennis Blair, the head of the
U.S. Pacific Command, told Congress this week that the Kidd
had an effective air defense ability and could be delivered
in only two years, a time frame some experts say is somewhat
optimistic. He also noted that the Kidds and the Arleigh
Burke-class destroyers have the same propulsion system,
suggesting that it could provide Taiwan's navy with some
useful training should it eventually acquire the Aegis-
equipped Arleigh Burke.
Shi-wen, Taiwan's defense minister, indicated that Taiwan's
priority was still to acquire the Aegis because it had the
potential to serve as a sea-based antimissile defense. In
an interview, he declined to say if Taiwan would buy the
Kidds, saying the matter required further study.
other Taiwanese officials suggested that Taiwan would be
willing to defer the Aegis purchase for a year if it was
linked to a demand that China restrain its military buildup.
are still hopeful that our request for the Aegis will be
granted this year," Dr. Tien Hung-mao, Taiwan's foreign
minister, said in an interview. "But I think this is
something we are willing to give the U.S. administration
room to think about. In the end, if the Chinese fail to
cooperate, the U.S. will be in a more justifiable position
to say, hey, we gave you 12 months. You cannot just make
unilateral demands without making any concessions."
experts say, however, that while the Kidd might do for now,
it is no substitute for the Aegis, especially if the Chinese
continue to increase their air, missile and naval forces
nears Taiwan throughout the decade.
say the Aegis's phased-array radar and combat system is
capable of tracking and attacking a greater number of targets
than Kidd's system, which uses an older, rotating radar.
Arleigh Burke-class destroyers on which the Aegis is installed
also carries more surface-to-air missiles than the Kidd
and can fire more quickly. And if the United States succeeds
in developing a theater sea- based antimissile defense and
decides to provide it to Taiwan, it would use the Aegis-equipped
Arleigh Burke, not the Kidd, as a platform.
Kidds can handle the current Chinese antiship missile threat,"
said Norman Polmar, a naval analyst. "But the Chinese
future missile capability will require a much more sophisticated
defense like the Aegis."