Washington has approved the sale of more than US$900 million in upgraded ground support materiel for Taiwan's three Patriot-II anti-missile batteries, a move that is expected to improve Taiwan's capability to fend off a ballistic missile attack by China.
The decision to go ahead with the arms sale was submitted for approval to the US Congress on Friday. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) -- the unit responsible for foreign arms sales at the Department of Defense -- made the news public on Tuesday morning after Congress gave the okay for the sale, DSCA spokesman Charles Taylor said.
The sale was the fifth major weapons sale to Taiwan this year and brought the total approved arms sales during the year to US$3.717 billion. The biggest sale was that of 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft in September for US$1.96 billion.
The latest sale -- which could come at a price tag of US$939 million if Taipei exercises all the options -- would provide Taiwan with the most up-to-date configuration of ground support equipment for the anti-missile system, a DSCA press release said.
The sale would include upgraded short and long-range radio equipment, enhanced radar, target classification and identification equipment, upgraded remote-launch communication systems and an electric power plant.
"The proposed sale serves US national, economic and security interests by supporting the recipient's continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and enhance its defense capabilities," DSCA said. "The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance and economic progress in the region."
The sale is "consistent with United States law and policy" under the Taiwan Relations Act, DSCA said.
The giant defense contractor, Raytheon Corp, will be the main contractor.
China immediately condemned the sale, urging Washington to cancel it and to end arms sales and all military links with Taiwan.
Ostensibly aware of the sale before the official announcement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (
Liu said the sale "endangered Chinese national security and peaceful reunification."
Taiwan purchased 200 original Patriot-II anti-missile missiles -- also known as PAC-2 -- from Raytheon in 1993, and the systems entered service in 1998. The missiles were first test fired in 2001, after China began the rapid escalation of its missile capabilities targeting Taiwan.
That year, Washington approved the sale of more advanced PAC-3 systems, which Taiwan had requested years earlier.
However, approval of those purchases was held up in the Legislative Yuan and the government this year acceded to opposition demands that the purchase be shelved.
In June, the legislature approved a NT$25.7 billion (US$796 million) 2007 defense budget that included an upgrade plan for the PAC-2s.
The announcement of the sale came one week after US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' first official visit to China, during which Taiwan was a main topic of discussion, along with US concerns over China's military expansion.
It was not immediately known whether the announcement was delayed until Gates had returned from the region. After China, Gates visited South Korea and Japan.