The U.S. Senate voted 83-11 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2023 after the U.S. House of Representatives advanced the same legislation in a resounding 350-80 vote. The annual defense bill, which now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature, includes landmark legislation related to Taiwan that can begin to close the gap between words and actions in Washington and play a decisive role in deterring Chinese aggression and avoiding great power war.
The bill includes three key elements that will: 1) strengthen Taiwan’s ability to counter an attack by Beijing; 2) improve the U.S. military’s ability to quickly surge in support of Taiwan in the event of an attack; and 3) establish long-overdue U.S.-Taiwan joint military planning and exercises. Together they represent the most consequential U.S. legislation related to Taiwan since the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
The NDAA includes investments in and support for Taiwan’s armed forces, such as the provision of up to $2 billion a year in Foreign Military Financing for Taiwan over five years if the U.S. secretaries of defense and state can certify that Taiwan has increased its defense spending compared to the previous year. If maximized, this is effectively a 10 percent to 12 percent increase in Taiwan’s defense spending and rewards Taiwan for getting its defense spending up to about 2.3 percent of its GDP. At least 85 percent of this annual foreign military financing must be spent in the United States, which will strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base.
The legislation also includes much-needed guidance to the U.S. Defense and State Departments to prioritize the delivery of arms to Taiwan. There is a nearly $19 billion backlog of weapons intended for Taiwan thanks to a persistent combination of insufficient U.S. industrial capacity and a sluggish bureaucratic process dangerously disconnected from the serious threat the U.S. and Taiwan confront. The delay in the delivery of the Harpoon coastal defense system and associated missiles to Taiwan is a perfect example. The sale was announced in 2020, but delivery may not be complete until 2029, barring urgent intervention.
Even more embarrassing is that more than 200 Javelin missiles and launchers and 250 Stinger systems were approved for sale to Taiwan in 2015 and have not been delivered. Given the need to supply Ukraine and restock U.S. and allied inventories, it is not realistic to expect them before 2026 or 2027. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency that runs the arms sales process for the Pentagon issues world class press releases to announce sales but, despite individual staff efforts, the agency’s ability to deliver those capabilities at the speed of relevance is something less than world class. Congress’ attention and oversight can help.
The NDAA also authorizes the Pentagon to establish a regional contingency stockpile for Taiwan that consists of munitions and other defense articles. That’s essential because munitions would be depleted quickly in a conflict and traditional assumptions about the ability to resupply forces would not necessarily apply in conflict with China’s People’s Liberation Army. Demonstrating Congress’ seriousness, the section includes an increase in program authorization focusing on Taiwan contingencies of up to $300 million per fiscal year for three years.
The legislation also specifically identifies Taiwan as a participant in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, a great tool for training individual foreign officers and senior enlisted personnel. That builds valuable connections with their American counterparts. The NDAA also provides authorization for Taiwan to benefit from both Presidential Drawdown Authorities (up to $1 billion per year) and Special Defense Acquisition Funds. As the Pentagon has demonstrated this year in Ukraine, drawdown authorities will allow the U.S. military to arm Taiwan much more rapidly in a crisis by using U.S. stocks. Finally, there is a $2 billion loan program for Taiwan’s military purchases, which could help further close the gap between the military Taipei needs and the one it currently has.
Even with these measures, Taiwan will still struggle to counter a Chinese invasion. At best, these programs are designed to strengthen Taiwan’s ability to stall Chinese progress, thereby providing the U.S. military time to surge into theater, augment U.S. forward deployed forces, and join up with other allies willing to fight.
To be clear, a successful outcome in the Taiwan Strait will require a more capable U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. Accordingly, the NDAA looks to maximize investments in these two services’ capacity and capability to fight a high-intensity conflict against a peer adversary. Laudable steps include the accelerated and continued development and procurement of fifth generation fighters, refueling aircraft, new airborne early warning aircraft, attack submarines, and multi-mission destroyers.
The new defense bill also includes a wide range of congressional initiatives to address the U.S. military’s insufficient munitions arsenal and the associated munitions production capacity crisis in the industrial base in the short, medium, and long terms. There is specific funding for defense industrial base (DIB) production expansion, starting with the Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM). This is much needed since it will take more than a decade to grow the current inventory of 200 or so LRASMs to a more desirable inventory of 1,200 LRASMs with current production rates of 88 missiles a year. The NDAA includes similar DIB expansion efforts for Standard Missile, Harpoon Missile, Naval Strike Missile, and the air-launched standoff land attack (JASSM) missile.
The NDAA also includes permission to establish multi-year contracts for the LRASM (up to 950 missiles), Harpoon (2,600 missiles), Naval Strike (1,250 missiles), SM-6 (1,500 missiles), and nearly 15,000 AIM-9X, AMRAAM, and Patriot air defense missiles. This provides industry much-needed predictability and encourages private sector investments that will build valuable additional capacity over time. There are also increases in specific munitions procurement for 2023, including MK 48 and MK 54 torpedoes.
Finally, Congress looked at the Defense Department’s plan for the defense of Guam (which is relevant to a Taiwan crisis) and wisely directs the Pentagon to procure and field no later than December 31, 2023, up to three shore-based vertical launch systems that can accommodate interceptors operated by the Navy.
The third line of effort in the NDAA aimed at deterring China is building U.S.-Taiwan interoperability. The warfighting integration of the U.S. and Taiwan militaries is currently at the lowest level of collaboration — deconfliction; i.e., “let’s stay out of each other’s way.” That is not an effective posture for dealing with the Chinese military. The U.S. and Taiwan militaries need to rapidly transition up to “coordinated” or even “integrated” levels of cooperation across multiple domains of warfare.
Accordingly, the NDAA provides explicit guidance to the Defense Department to plan and execute joint exercises to both build Taiwan’s forces readiness and increase interoperability with U.S. forces across all elements of military power. This is the most cost-effective element of the plan. Tabletop exercises, war-games, joint exercises, and rotational deployments can yield significant warfighting improvements from reasonably small investments.
The NDAA also provides direction for the conduct of extensive planning to identify and address gaps in Taiwan’s capabilities. This includes specific efforts to improve Taiwan’s domestic resilience and civil defense, another good lesson from the Ukraine experience.
Americans frustrated with inaction and partisan gridlock in Washington should look to the new defense bill for encouragement. The landmark legislation demonstrates that Americans and their representatives in Congress can still come together and act when core American interests are on the line. That’s certainly the case with Taiwan.
Retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the senior director of its Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation. Bradley Bowman serves as senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at FDD.