Military hopeful over cooperation with US: sources

By Aaron Tu and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Sep 22, 2017 - Page 3

The nation’s military is hopeful that Taiwan-US military cooperation will proceed apace if the US Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018, sources at the Ministry of National Defense said.

The US House of Representatives and the Senate have each passed a version of the bill and the two chambers still have to iron out their differences before the final bill can be forwarded for ratification by US President Donald Trump.

According to the bill, the US secretary of defense is to report to US congressional committees no later than Sept. 1 next year on the “feasibility and advisability” of the US Navy making port calls in Taiwan and of the Taiwanese navy the same in US territories.

The proposed bill would place certain obligations on the US to support Taiwan’s undersea warfare capabilities and invite its military to observe maneuvers.

The NDAA for this fiscal year has already established perimeters for exchanges or visits by the two nations’ military officers, ministry sources said on condition of anonymity.

Taiwan will continue to ask the US to allow high-ranking, active-service officers from both sides to visit and observe military maneuvers, the sources said.

The government is seeking to expand the categories of military cooperation between the two nations and is lobbying to send more groups of observers, they said.

The ministry’s plans to procure arms from the US would be guided by the military’s need to develop its capabilities and build on its current cooperative framework, they said.

The government has asked the US about procuring Lockheed-Martin F-35B Lightnings for the air force, the sources said.

However, Washington has expressed reservations about the proposal, citing Taiwan’s logistical capabilities to sustain stealth tactical aircraft and concern over reaction in the region to their presence, they said.

The military is re-evaluating other types of fighter jets that offer the same stealth capability and short takeoff and landing features, while it prepares the groundwork for its domestic jet program, they said.

In addition, the military is considering acquiring technical assistance outside of the US for its domestic submarine program, they said.

The NDAA may also authorize US assistance in Taiwan’s development of submarine vessels, which might refer to the upgrading of existing Chienlung-class boats rather than acquisition of new ones, they said.

It is too early at this point to speculate what the NDAA would portend for the nation’s navy, they said.

As the US Navy has no active surface diesel-electrical submarines, it is an open question what help, if any, the US may render, they said.

However, the US’ shipbuilding capabilities suggest that there are areas where interaction may be of benefit, they said.

The domestic submarine program’s requirements for resources, design and foreign assistance will be clarified in the first half of next year, they said.