As the US military pulls out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon is reportedly seeking to sell some of the weapons used in those conflicts to its allies — and Taiwan is studying the possibility of acquiring M1 Abrams main battle tanks.
Ministry of National Defense spokesman Major General David Lo (羅紹和) told local media yesterday that efforts to acquire used battle tanks from the US were currently under evaluation.
Taiwan will be joining a number of US allies who will try to grab what is available and it remains to be seen whether it will be able to make the cut.
“A lot of issues need to be considered. To name just a few: Its logistic support, if they could work under the current maintenance system for M60s,” he said, referring to one of the main tanks currently in service.
About 480 M60A3 tanks acquired in the 1990s, as well as 450 M-48H and 300 M-48A5 medium tanks, comprise the Army’s modern battle tank force, which also includes the CM11 (modified M48H turrets mated to M60 hulls) and CM12 (modified CM11 turrets mated to M48A3 hulls) variants.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Chao Shih-chang (趙世璋) told the legislature recently that the Army was seeking to procure 200 tanks to bolster its forces, adding that the great bulk would be deployed in Hukou Township (湖口), Hsinchu County, which is home to the 584th Armored Brigade.
The M1 Abrams, which entered service in the 1980s and played a major role in ground operations during Desert Storm in 1991, would add firepower to the 30 AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters the Army is in the process of procuring from the US. Its main use would be in coastal defense against an amphibious assault.
This would not be the first time Taiwan modernized its forces through the acquisition of excess defense articles from the US.
It procured 12 P-3C “Orion” maritime patrol aircraft from the US for US$1.9 billion in 2007.
Two Osprey-class coastal mine-hunting ships, the decommissioned USS Oriole and USS Falcon, which are scheduled to enter service this year, were also acquired as excess defense articles as part of a US$6.4 billion arms package announced in January 2010.
Surplus defense articles have the advantage of coming at a fraction of the price of a new platform, though they oftentimes incur major costs for new fire control systems, software and electronics.
Taiwan’s efforts to procure the 70-tonne main battle tank go back to the early 2000s, when it requested M1-A2s from the US, a request that Washington turned down.
Critics at the time said Taiwan’s mountainous terrain was unsuitable for the heavy tank, adding that given the maneuverability limits, lighter, medium wheeled tanks would probably be a better option.
Lo said the Army had yet to receive a formal notification from the US.
Additional reporting by AFP