Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan needs to go asymmetrical

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

In the face of US refusals to sell Taiwan more advanced F-16s, some Taiwanese defense officials, including Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖), have hinted that Taipei could make a request for the fifth-generation F-35. The aircraft, which has vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) capabilities, could resolve the problem of survivability following a missile attack, as it requires very little runway and can easily be concealed.

In about 2004 or 2005, Taipei approached the US seeking to become a Security Cooperation Participant for the development of the F-35, and even offered to inject US$25 million into the consortium. Washington rejected that offer. At the time, officials in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) already feared that this could be a non-starter. Even today, the unit cost of the problem-plagued F-35 — estimates vary from US$65 million to US$80 million — would probably deter Taipei.

With the F-35 beyond reach, the even more expensive F-22 no longer in production and other suppliers unwilling to defy China by selling advanced military hardware to Taiwan, Taipei is left with two options: Either it embarks on a crash program to develop and produce a modern combat aircraft — perhaps with US assistance, as occurred with the Indigenous Defense Fighter — or it abandons its strategy of countering China by conventional military means and adopts an asymmetrical program.

One area worth exploring to increase deterrent is the development of land attack cruise missiles (LACM). Taiwan has worked at developing those, including the 600km Hsiung Feng IIE. By strategically placing firing units, preferably mobiles ones, on Taiwan proper and its outlying islands, Taiwan could pose a high cost to any attack by China.

However, Taiwan faces a bottleneck in its ability to produce smaller, high-yield and longer-range warheads. This is largely the fault of the US Department of State, which has blocked the transfer of sensitive missile components to Taipei under Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) rules and self-imposed limits on the transfer of “offensive” weapons to Taiwan. Lobbying Washington to lift those restrictions would be a step in the right direction.

However, LACMs are not the final answer, as they are slow, and the Chinese military has been developing, acquiring and fielding anti-aircraft artillery, radar and very capable infrared sensors that can shoot them down.

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