China downplays its spending, saying it is upgrading its outmoded forces and that its plans do not pose a threat to any country. It also notes its defense budget is far lower than that of the US.
However, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has made modernizing the navy a priority. China is upgrading its destroyers and frigates to provide capability to sail further and strike harder, and is developing fearsome anti-ship ballistic missiles to take out US carriers.
Last month, China’s first aircraft carrier made its maiden run.
Taiwan, which for years relied on better equipment and better training, has been hobbled by the refusal of any country aside from the US to sell it weapons, fearing an angry response from China. The advantages it once maintained in the air slipped away over the past decade as China modernized.
Despite Taiwan’s public calls for weaponry, defense spending has not kept pace. The NT$300 billion (US$10 billion) earmarked for this year is just 2.2 percent of GDP. Ma had promised in his 2008 election campaign to raise that to 3 percent.
The aging of Taiwan’s fleet of fighters came into stark focus last week with the crash of two US-built F-5 aircraft, which it first put into service in the 1970s and still uses for training and reconnaissance missions.
The backbone of Taiwan’s air force is made up of about 140 US-made F-16A/Bs, about 60 French-built Mirage 2000s and about 130 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighters. Jets lost in accidents over the years are nearly impossible to replace.