TAIPEI — Taiwan's military has undergone a major reshuffle among its top brass with naval officials rising to top positions — which could bode well for the service in future budgets. The turnover marks the first time the Navy has taken the top slot of minister of defense since Adm. Lee Jye served from 2004-7.
Former Army and Air Force officers have dominated the post since then and budget allocations have favored these services over the Navy, including . These included billion-dollar packages for new AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and a midlife upgrade package for the F-16 fleet. Now the Navy wants to steer future budgets toward funding new builds of submarines and possibly destroyers.
The Jan.uary 27 resignation of the Minister of National Defense Minister Yen Ming also lacks the conspiratorial or scandal-laden atmosphere of past leadership reshuffles. The chief of the General Staff, Adm.iral Kao Kuang-chi, replaced Yen, a former Air Force general, in an atmosphere of goodwill.
Lin Chong-Pin, a former deputy defense minister and vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, said it was a good initiative and Kao and Yen are "both capable and professional officers."
Adm.iral Li Hsi-ming replaced Adm. Chen Yeong-kang as Navy chief, while Chen became a strategic adviser to President Ma Ying-jeou. Army commander Gen.eral Yen De-fa succeeded Kao. Deputy Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng became the Army commander.
The administrative deputy defense minister of Defense, Lt. Gen.eral Shen Yi-ming, was promoted to general and named Air Force commander, replacing Liu Chen-wu, who became deputy defense minister.
Kao's rise to the top allows the Navy to address past grievances aggresses over the defense budget.
"The Navy has gotten the short end of the stick in terms of budget allocations over the past decade and would like to see this redressed," a Taiwan defense analyst said. "Indeed, of the major FMS [US Foreign Military Sales] purchases funded since 2007, only the P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft and the sub-launched Harpoon missiles were Navy programs."
He said the recent saleTaiwan's recent purchase of surplus US Perry-class frigates "don't really count, as they are EDA [excess defense articles] and decidedly small-ticket."
As such, the Taiwan Navy has not seen significant capital investment projects compared to the Air Force and Army in the past 10ten years, he said.
"The recent new ship constructions signal the long overdue shift in military investment emphasis to come," which will include four-to-eight submarines, the analyst said. Over the past 10 tenyears, naval investments have been in low-budget, small tonnage warships.
Taiwan's Navy recently took has just taken delivery of the first of 12 twelvestealthy 500-ton Tuo Jiang-class catamaran corvettes and recently took delivery of all 31 of the 170-ton Kuang Hua-6 guided-missile patrol boats.
Both political parties, the pro-independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the conservative Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), appear satisfied by the shifts of personnel as each prepares for the next presidential election in 2016.
"It's a good initiative," said York Chen, a DPP member and defense policy expert. The personnel moves will help with the military's stability until the election, he said.
"According to the modus operandi of the top brass rotation, all the service heads will remain in their posts during the initial stage of the next presidency; it will be a positive factor for the stability of power transition in 2016," said Ching Chang, research fellow for the conservative-leaning ROC Society for Strategic Studies. Unless the US announces new arms sales, expect a "banal, but stable path" for the military until after the next president is sworn in.
Alexander Huang, chairman of Taiwan's Council on Strategic and Wargaming Studies, said this would also serve to "facilitate rejuvenation of the senior officer corps."
Arthur Ding, a cross-strait military affairs expert at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, agreed. "Downsizing has made top leadership look too old and is not good for raising younger leadership, so it is a combination of political and personnel administration considerations."
Lin said he did not expect "groundbreaking changes in Taiwan defense policy due to the almost insurmountable obstacles externally," including US reservations on arms transfers, and Beijing's "global influence on possible suppliers of submarine technology," and "budget constraints in a slow economy and polarized politics."
Chang said new naval investments before the election were unlikely as the budget process for fiscal year 2015 has been completed, and that means "the new leadership may only conduct the existing programs already established by their predecessors."
He also said restricted budgets are a challenge for the next administration and will give the new defense leadership less room for change, though the "new defense leadership may have the capacity to shape some rough edges ... the possibility of fundamental change is less likely to happen in the foreseeable future."