The arms procurement bill was recently blocked in the legislature for the 61st time, and some say this continued refusal to invest in national defense is causing a deterioration in US-Taiwan relations.
The arms budget impasse recently caused me to think about the memorable missions undertaken by the nation's old fighter planes and led me to the conclusion that procuring appropriate arms is necessary.
Since the end of the battle for Kinmen in 1958, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have not exchanged artillery fire, and the tense atmosphere once found on Taiwan's outlying islands has gradually become more relaxed.
Because of military cooperation between Taiwan and the US in the late 1950s, the nation's Black Cat Squadron flew U-2 high altitude spy planes over China to gather photographs of People's Liberation Army (PLA) movements. The Black Cat Squadron was also deployed on very dangerous intelligence missions to collect data on the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) electronic warfare capabilities.
But following the steady improvement of the PLA's air capabilities, our fighters were frequently intercepted by their MiGs. Many of Taiwan's pilots made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving behind epic and moving stories.
But their sacrifice was not in vain: the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and Taiwan came out of the nation's military cooperation with the US in the 1950s.
The Mutual Defense Treaty and military alliance lasted until 1971, when it was finally put to rest, but channels for cooperation between the Taiwanese and the US military remain wide open, enough so that there is still a military balance of power along the Taiwan Strait.
In the 1980s, satellite imagery was only beginning to develop. Without exception, the US and European countries classified their information on satellite development and imposed strict controls on distributing the technology. As a result, in order to gain knowledge of the CCP's missile deployment and protect the nation's security, we counted on dangerous flights over China to gather military information.
At that time, the nation did not have E-2 Hawkeye fighters equipped with early warning radar systems and our ground-based radar systems were also limited. This forced our pilots to fly into China's airspace or along its coast on air reconnaissance missions.
I personally experienced occasions when our planes were intercepted by Chinese MiGs and our two sides came almost eye-to-eye, because aircraft radar capabilities then were relatively poor. We had no early-warning system, but instead had to rely on ground-based radar to counterattack and complete the mission. Today, thanks to the E-2 Hawkeye and its early warning system, the situation has markedly improved.
Modern weapon systems have rapidly progressed. In the future, overwhelming firepower will likely replace hand-to-hand combat and more remotely controlled weapons will be used.
But China is also aggressively strengthening the PLA along these lines while also engaging in exchanges, visits and military exercises with foreign countries.
The Chinese have also painstakingly researched ancient and modern Western military history and have published a series of reports looking at areas of future warfare. China has put a plan into place to acquire the systems necessary for fighting a modern, high-tech and fast war. It has also developed plans for precision, blitzkrieg attacks.
The nation would do well to note the growth of China's military, because as the Chinese economy grows stronger, Beijing will apply more military pressure on Taiwan.
Faced with this threat, we must maintain appropriate defense capabilities in order to safeguard the security of the Taiwanese people. Otherwise, we will not be able to engage with China as equals.
If Taiwan refuses to modernize its weapons systems, the cross-strait military balance will disappear and the CCP will be able to effectively use scare tactics against us.
Faced with this sort of cross-strait instability, we must make an appropriate investment in our military, not only to protect our national security, but also to increase our ability to engage with the CCP as equals.
Only in this way can we protect our outlying islands and provide an opportunity for closer relations with the US.
Chang Yan-ting is a colonel in the Republic of China Air Force and an assistant professor at the Military College of the National Defense University.
Translated by Jason Cox
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