Defense spending needs rethinking

By Su Tzu-yun 蘇紫雲  / 

Wed, Nov 21, 2001 - Page 8

The media has reported that the army plans to buy M1A2 tanks and AH-64 Apache helicopters. This breakthrough against restrictions on US arms sales to Taiwan -- and the consolidating effect it will have on Taiwan's land-based weapons systems -- are to be welcomed. However, whether these two weapons systems can be used effectively in the Taiwan Strait theater needs further consideration.

In developing Taiwan's defensive capability we should take long-range attack forces as a priority and push the line of safety outward to create strategic depth by means of firepower. Even if we only consider strategies to resist an enemy landing, destroying the enemy's means of transport at sea would be the most cost-effective way of doing so. Distribution of resources should focus on attacking the enemy in the Strait and not on a decisive land battle.

Given the state's limited resources, the traditional emphasis on balanced development of the armed services and the method of dividing the budget equally between the three branches of the military lead to a wide distribution of funds. This makes it impossible to meet the overall defensive needs of the nation. Perhaps the military should seriously consider a policy of "imbalanced development of the armed services" and concentrate resources on key aspects of the military and military technology. Only by spending smart can we maximize our military's potential.

The handling of arms procurement policy should also be reconsidered. The defense budget is limited and for this reason the army desperately needs effective policy management in order to meet the demand for land-based combat power.

The army's weapons procurement policy is hard to grasp, however. For example, the RT-2000 (雷霆-2000) multiple-launch rocket system, developed and produced by the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, has first-rate capabilities by international standards. Moreover, the technology has already matured. But the army still plans to purchase M109A6 self-propelled howitzers from the US.

By contrast, Taiwan's expertise at producing wheeled armored vehicles is limited, and this is a non-critical technology. But the army has stubbornly insisted on allocating a budget to develop and produce the vehicles themselves. They aren't willing to buy lower-cost, reliable products from an outside source. Clearly the army's weapons procurement policy needs to be further examined.

Looking at the matter from the perspective of recent developments in military theory, changes have already occurred in land-based main battle equipment. The tank is likely to be replaced by the wheeled armored vehicle. The US military's joint chiefs of staff have presented a report to this effect. The primary reason, apart from the extremely heavy logistical backup needed by tanks, is that due to improvements in materials science and military craftsmanship, the protective power and overall capability of wheeled vehicles has greatly improved.

At the same time, preserving the advantage of high mobility suits the needs of the fluid battle arenas of the future. Perhaps the military can reconsider whether wheeled vehicles might be more suitable for the battlefield environment in Taiwan.

In April, The New York Times published a negative critique of Taiwan's national defense. One point was that weapons with limited offensive capability -- such as the M1 -- are still among those that Taiwan is trying the hardest to obtain. Clearly, Taiwan can't break free of the traditional baggage of defensive thinking.

In World War II, Germany's heavy tanks were still destroyed when its military lost air superiority. In the war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the Israeli military was able to rout the allied Arab armies and their tanks through air superiority. These examples explain the main factors that must be considered in the consolidation of our military.

If Taiwan can gain air and naval supremacy, it might not win the war, but it won't lose it. In the face of China's military threat, time is already a luxury for those preparing Taiwan's defenses. The military should strengthen its management of macro policy for military preparations in order to apply limited resources in the most effective way.

Su Tzu-yun is an associate research fellow in the national defense section of the DPP's policy research and coordinating committee.

Translated by Ethan Harkness