Taiwan's Marine Corps has stated it wants additional AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles. (Wendell Minnick/Staff)
TAIPEI — After nearly a decade of waiting, wrangling with budgets, writing proposals and whistling past the graveyard, new aircraft deliveries have begun arriving in Taiwan.
Over the past 60 days, deliveries of 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and 30 AH-64E Apache Longbow attack helicopters have begun arriving in Taiwan. Sixty UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters are expected to begin arriving in 2014.
Despite struggles to pay for new equipment with dwindling defense budgets and improved relations with China, planners in Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) are sketching out proposals for new arms procurements from the US.
Sources in both Taiwan and the US indicate the top priority is acquiring diesel-powered attack submarines. In 2001, the US offered Taiwan eight submarines, but made no explanation on how it would fulfill the order. The US does not build diesel submarines, and many countries refuse to provide them to Taiwan due to political pressure from China.
Taiwan still has two Dutch-built diesel subs acquired during the 1980s and, at least on paper, still operates two World War II-era Guppy submarines for training.
Defense Minister Yen Ming and President Ma Ying-jeou have made clear in recent weeks the importance of the submarine acquisition.
“Senior level ROC [Republic of China] authorities have been adamant about their priorities, first and foremost being additional diesel-electric submarines,” said Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute and a former Taiwan desk officer in the Pentagon’s Office of the Secretary of Defense.
“Submarines offer not only a credible, survivable deterrent, but also are critical for anti-submarine warfare training,” he said. “Senior US officials committed to assisting Taiwan in its acquisition of diesel-electric submarines more than a decade ago should move forward with a cooperative design feasibility study.”
Another Navy priority for Taiwan is the replacement of eight Vietnam War-era Knox-class frigates. Two Knox-class frigates are scheduled to be replaced next year with two refurbished Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates from the US Navy. Taiwan has the option of procuring a total of four retired Perry-class frigates from the US.
Taiwan’s Navy also is considering replacing some of the Knox-class frigates with a new Sea Swift catamaran corvette to be built by the China Shipbuilding Corp.
An MND source indicated the Navy would like to build indigenous minehunters loosely based on US-built Osprey-class vessels. Taiwan faces threats of blockade by China’s navy and the potential mining of port facilities during a conflict.
York Chen, a former member of Taiwan’s National Security Council, said Taiwan’s Navy still wants an “Aegis-equipped frigate,” though the Pentagon has ignored past requests.
Taiwan originally requested four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with the Aegis combat system, but finally settled for four Kidd-class destroyers.
The Taiwan Marine Corps has stated publicly it wishes to procure additional AAV-7A1 amphibious assault vehicles. In 2006, Taiwan procured 54 of those vehicles to replace aging LVTP-5A1 vehicles acquired in the 1970s. The MND source indicated the marines want an additional 48 AAV-7s to completely replace the remaining LVTP-5s.
Although the US has denied Taiwan’s request for 66 F-16C/D fighter jets, the decision has not affected Taiwan Air Force plans to acquire the F-35 stealth fighter. Some Taiwan officials believe the next White House administration will be Republican and more willing to support Taiwan’s defense needs.
The Taiwan Air Force also plans to replace its AT-3 “Tzu Chung” trainer jets with the South Korean-built T-50 Golden Eagle. Taiwan had planned to build a replacement, dubbed the AT-5, but the program was canceled due to funding and development problems.
What Taiwan’s Air Force needs is “precision strike weapons,” such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and UAVs, said Arthur Ding, a cross-strait military affairs expert at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University. Given China’s tight air defense network, it would be “completely impossible to fly deep into China” for Taiwan’s fighters, Ding said.
In 2011, Taiwan secured the US release of an upgrade package for its older F-16A/B fighters that included the GBU-31, GBU-38 and GBU-54 laser-guided JDAMs. Though they were released, due to budgetary reasons, the Air Force has delayed the purchase of JDAMs until 2014 or later.