The US has announced it will not sell Taiwan F-16C/Ds, but will upgrade its F-16A/Bs. Taiwan’s fighter jets are old, while the capabilities of China’s jets keep improving, expanding the gap between China’s and Taiwan’s air forces. The US arms package is like a short rain after a long drought — it won’t end the drought, but it will bring short-term relief. Taiwan may be unhappy about the deal, but must accept it.
The Ministry of National Defense (MND), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Office and the Cabinet applauded the US’ decision. A pleased President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) tried to claim credit, saying the arms purchase budget since he took office has exceeded that of former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) 12 years in office and former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) eight years in office. He also said this proves he has done more to improve the military’s war preparedness than Lee and Chen together.
Trying to prove that Ma is focusing on national defense merely by pointing to the arms procurement budget does not reveal the full extent of the government’s national defense policies.
During Lee’s time in office, the US was not Taiwan’s only arms source — France provided Mirage jets and Lafayette-class frigates, while Germany provided minesweepers. Lee’s presidency was also the high point for domestic arms development, with the production of eight Cheng Kung-class frigates and 130 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF), which laid the groundwork for Taiwan’s current national defense.
Because international arms purchase channels dried up during the Chen presidency, arms procurement focused on the US. Kidd-class frigates and long-range early warning radar systems are the most well-known purchases, but the purchase of Patriot PAC-3 missiles, diesel-powered submarines and anti-submarine aircraft was blocked dozens of times in the legislature by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) because of political infighting. The US might have been prepared to sell these weapons systems, but the chaotic Taiwanese legislative situation forced Washington to stand by and wait.
First, the KMT tied the hands of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government and blocked the military upgrades, and now it is bragging that it has purchased more arms than the previous two administrations. That is shameful.
Although the US has sold a total of US$18 billion in defense-related items to the Ma administration, a closer look shows that whether it be Black Hawk helicopters, Apache attack helicopters or Patriot PAC-3 missiles, the procurement applications had been initiated by the DPP government. However, following the Typhoon Morakot disaster in August 2009, Taiwan’s lack of large helicopters not only caused the US to send helicopters to assist in the rescue effort, Washington also announced not long after that it had agreed to sell helicopters to Taiwan. In other words, Ma reaped the benefits of what others had sowed.
The Ma administration has been strongly criticized for neglecting national defense and is now making a big propaganda number of the US’ decision to upgrade our aging fighter jets. Although the government had budgeted a mere NT$2 million (US$65,700) for the purchase of F-16C/Ds, it is bragging about its accomplishments by only comparing how much the previous two administrations had spent on arms procurement, which is deception at its worst.