Taiwan and U.S. Consider Weapons Suited to Defend Against China

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is quietly pressuring the Taiwanese government to order American-made weapons that would help its small army repel a maritime invasion by China rather than weapons designed for conventional warfare, U.S. officials say and current and former Taiwanese.

The US campaign to shape Taiwan’s defenses has gained urgency since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine ordered by President Vladimir V. Putin in late February. The war has convinced Washington and Taipei that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the coming years is now a potential danger – and that a smaller army with the right weapons that has adopted an asymmetric war strategy, in which it concentrates on mobility and precision attacks, can push back a larger enemy.

US officials are re-examining the capabilities of the Taiwanese military to determine if it can fight off an invasion, as Ukrainian forces have done.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan is trying to steer the country’s military towards asymmetric warfare and has decided to purchase a large number of mobile deadly weapons that are difficult to target and counter.

But some Taiwanese defense officials are resisting. And US officials have decided that some weapons systems that the Taiwanese Defense Ministry has tried to order – the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter made by Lockheed Martin, for example – are not suitable for war against the military. Chinese.

US officials warned their Taiwanese counterparts that the State Department would reject such requests. They also told US arms manufacturers to refrain from asking US agencies to approve Taiwanese orders for certain weapons. The procurement process is complex, with many parties involved.

On Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Senate hearing that Taiwanese officials were learning lessons from the war in Ukraine, including the importance of “effective training with the right weapons systems, and what those systems with the right people would be able to do to thwart that.

He said partner nations in Asia and the US Department of Defense could further exploit the war in Ukraine to get suggestions for Taiwan and “help them understand what this conflict is about, what lessons they can learn from it and where they can go.” should focus their dollars on their defense and training.”

The Biden administration’s push has broadened and accelerated similar efforts by officials in the Trump and Obama administrations. Democratic and Republican officials and lawmakers say one of the lessons of the war in Ukraine is that the United States must help turn Taiwan into a “porcupine” to deter potential attacks from China.

The nine current and former U.S. and Taiwanese officials familiar with the talks spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations.

“I feel there has been a shift,” said Bonnie S. Glaser, East Asia analyst at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It started before the invasion of Ukraine, but I think it’s really, really solidified since then. There was this call to the Pentagon to make sure Taiwan is serious, and we also have to become serious.

State Department and Pentagon officials have been involved in discussions with the Taiwanese government. Lawmakers and congressional aides delivered similar messages. The Biden administration also sent a bipartisan delegation of five former top national security officials to Taiwan in early March to hold talks with Ms. Tsai and other officials on the country’s defense strategy and arms procurement. , among others.

“Continuing to pursue systems that will not contribute meaningfully to an effective defense strategy is inconsistent with the evolving security threat facing Taiwan,” a State Department official said in a statement. . “As such, the United States strongly supports Taiwan’s efforts to implement an asymmetric defense strategy.”

Another State Department official said conversations with Taiwan about weapons took place early in the Biden administration and the two governments are now considering lessons learned from the war in Ukraine.

For decades, Communist-ruled China has been committed to bringing Taiwan, a democratic island with de facto independence that is a US partner, under its control. Although there are no signs that war is imminent, Chinese President Xi Jinping has adopted a more aggressive foreign policy than his predecessors, and US officials fear he may invade Taiwan to seal his legacy.

The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 requires the US government to provide equipment of a defensive nature to Taiwan. Since then, all administrations have maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on the issue of military intervention – meaning they have not explicitly said whether the US military would defend Taiwan if China attacked.

President Biden said he would keep US troops away from fighting in Ukraine, but authorized shipments of mobile small arms that helped Ukrainian forces defeat the Russian military in critical battles, including around Kyiv, the capital. The Ukrainian army used an asymmetric strategy with great success, mounting fierce resistance against Russian tanks, fighter jets and battalion groups. Ukraine’s arsenal includes Javelin and Stinger missiles as well as armed drones.

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be different from the efforts of the Russian military in Ukraine and would be more difficult. Chinese warships are expected to cross more than 100 miles of water in the Taiwan Strait and ground forces on the island. The Chinese and Taiwanese sides of the strait are bristling with missiles aimed at each other, and the United States and allied nations regularly send warships through the waterway as a show of force.

Resupplying a besieged island with weapons in Taiwan could prove more difficult for the United States and its allies than it has been for Ukraine. As a result, some officials are considering stockpiling large amounts of ammunition in Taiwan.

In 2019, the State Department authorized a $2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks. Some U.S. officials at the time privately criticized the sale, saying that if Chinese forces advanced far enough in an invasion that Taiwan had to use tanks, the island would likely be doomed.

Many of Taiwan’s most recent orders have been consistent with an asymmetric strategy. But some Taiwanese officials continue to press US officials over demands for expensive conventional platforms like the Abrams tanks.

Several defense experts in Taiwan say the island will need certain traditional systems to prepare for different war scenarios involving China.

“We have accepted many recommendations from the United States, but we still need space to prepare for the possibility of other longer-term scenarios,” said Chieh Chung, security analyst at the National Policy Foundation. in Taipei. . He said he feared the war in Ukraine had caused Americans to dig even deeper into the idea of ​​asymmetry, without considering Taiwan’s specific needs.

“Our artillery systems are so old. They need to be modernized,” he added. “How can you ask us to take World War II-era equipment to defend ourselves against China?”

On Thursday, Chiu Kuo-cheng, the defense minister, told parliament that the ministry had abandoned a plan to buy the MH-60R helicopters because they were too expensive. He did not mention that US officials pushed Taiwan not to buy the helicopters. US and Taiwanese officials are also debating whether Taiwan should buy E-2D planes made by Northrop Grumman.

In recent weeks, Taiwanese officials have expressed their own frustration with the US government and US arms manufacturers, complaining of late deliveries and unfulfilled orders. Ms. Tsai herself sent messages to Washington, officials said.

Mr Chiu said two arms orders were delayed. One is a purchase of M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, made by BAE Systems, which US officials said was stalled due to insufficient production capacity, according to Taiwanese officials. The Department of Defense said it is now considering several alternatives offered by the United States, including HIMARS artillery rocket launchers. BAE Systems told Defense News last week that it had the capability to build the howitzers for Taiwan.

An order for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles has also been delayed, Chiu said.

Ukraine has requested regular shipments of Javelin and Stinger missiles, and the Biden administration is supplying them. Mr Chiu said Taiwan had already signed a contract for the Stingers and paid them. The State Department official said the war in Ukraine has not affected Taiwan’s order.

Stingers are among the types of weapons that US officials have encouraged Taiwan to order. The Americans also pushed Taiwan to buy Boeing-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles. In April, Ukrainian forces sank a Russian flagship, the Moskva, using Neptune anti-ship missiles, which are made in Ukraine. This attack, which was carried out with the help of intelligence provided by the Americans, was a defining moment in the war.

Some US officials say Taiwan should also increase its purchases of coastal air defense missile systems, armed drones and sea mines.

“The question is: how focused are you on asymmetric warfare versus other priorities?” said Evan S. Medeiros, senior director for Asia on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.

Suspicion in Washington and Taipei about China’s intentions towards Taiwan grew during the Ukraine War because Chinese officials consistently supported Mr. Putin’s justifications for his invasion and helped spread disinformation and theories conspiracy in favor of Russia.

On Feb. 4, as Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin met in Beijing ahead of the start of the Winter Olympics, their two governments issued a joint statement saying their partnership had “no limits.” According to one line, Russia claimed that Taiwan “is an inalienable part of China”.

Edward Wong reported from Washington, and Amy Qin from Taipei, Taiwan.

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