Senior official warns amphibious landings are difficult, but also repeats US calls for Taiwan to boost defence spending.
The US Department of State has approved the potential sale of three weapons systems to Taiwan, including sensors, missiles and artillery that could have a total value of $1.8bn, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, amid rising tension over the self-ruled island that China claims as its own.
Among other weapons systems, Wednesday’s formal notifications to Congress by the State Department were for 11 truck-based rocket launchers made by Lockheed Martin Corp called a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), at an estimated cost of $436.1m.
The notifications also covered 135 AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) Missiles and related equipment made by Boeing, for an estimated $1.008bn, and six MS-110 Recce external sensor pods made by Collins Aerospace for jets, at an estimated cost of $367.2m.
Further congressional notifications are expected to follow, including drones made by General Atomics and land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles, made by Boeing, to serve as coastal defence cruise missiles.
Sources told Reuters news agency the 100 cruise missiles stations and 400 missiles would cost about $2bn.
The formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales, but there is broad bipartisan support for the defence of Taiwan.
Defence Minister Yen De-fa welcomed the development, saying that while Taiwan did not want to get involved in an arms race with China, it needed a credible military.
Speaking to reporters, Yen said the sales were to help Taiwan improve their defensive capabilities to deal with the “enemy threat and new situation”.
“This includes a credible combat capability and asymmetric warfare capabilities to strengthen our determination to defend ourselves,” he added.
“This shows the importance attached by the United States to security in the Indo Pacific and Taiwan Strait. We will continue to consolidate our security partnership with the United States.”
Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to take back the island. Washington, meanwhile, sees Taiwan as an important democratic outpost and is required by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
The Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but China’s foreign ministry said last week that US arms sales to Taiwan severely damaged China’s sovereignty and security interests.
It urged Washington to cancel the planned sales and warned that China would “make a legitimate and necessary response according to how the situation develops”. The latest sale is likely to draw more condemnation.
The US administration has stepped up pressure on Beijing in the run-up to the November 3 US presidential election, in which President Donald Trump has made a tough stance against China a central theme of his campaign for a second term.
Washington has been eager to see Taiwan bolster its defence capabilities in the face of increasingly assertive moves from Beijing, which has been ratcheting up pressure on the island ever since President Tsai Ing-wen was first elected in 2016.
It has stepped up its manoeuvres since she was re-elected in a landslide in January, with the Ministry of National Defense regularly detailing the activities of the Chinese airforce close to the island. On Wednesday, it said a Y-8 aircraft had been tracked to the south of the island.
One PLA Y-8 ASW aircraft entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ in the afternoon of Oct. 21, the flight path as illustrated. #ROCAF deployed patrolling aircraft and air defense missile systems to monitor the activity. No matter what happened, we will Keep #protectourcountry firmly. pic.twitter.com/fPvMX129lA
— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) October 21, 2020
“The quality of the three programs notified today clearly reflects the urgency of continued Taiwan force modernization to counteract China’s hegemonic behavior,” US-Taiwan Business Council president, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, said in a statement. “Each program adds an important deterrent capability that should further complicate any consideration by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to threaten or to use force to coerce Taiwan into a political union.”
Tsai said earlier this month that Taiwan would continue to modernise its defence capabilities and enhance its capacity for asymmetric warfare to “deal with military expansion and provocation from the other side of the Taiwan Strait”. Asymmetric warfare is designed to make any Chinese attack difficult and costly, for example, with smart mines and portable missiles.
Taiwan’s defence ministry told parliament earlier this month that the military had launched aircraft to intercept Chinese planes more than twice as often in the first nine months of this year than it had in the whole of 2019.
Yen, the defence minister, stressed Taiwan was not looking for a confrontation.
“We will not engage in an arms race with the Chinese Communists,” he said. “We will put forward requirements and build fully in accordance with the strategic concept of heavy deterrence, defending our position and defensive needs.”