China agreed in early January to buy more upgraded Sovremenny-class destroyers worth US$1.5 billion from Russia, according to newspaper reports. These ships are reportedly more capable than US Kidd-class destroyers, which the Bush administration has agreed to sell Taiwan. Taipei had asked to buy AEGIS-class ships; however, these are considered by some to be too provocative to Beijing, very expensive and perhaps beyond the capability of Taiwan's navy at present. \nTo offset China's upgrading of its weaponry targeting Taiwan it is necessary to ensure that the nation's defenses are robust enough to deter a Chinese attack. \nA main plank of Taiwan's defense comes from its status as a defacto member of the US-Japan alliance. Both the US and Japanese navies are equipped with AEGIS destroyers, but neither the US Seventh Fleet nor Japan's Self-Defense Force has enough of these ships to keep a minimum number continuously stationed near Taiwan. \nIs there any way to provide Taiwan with a sufficient deterrent capability that is affordable and will not exceed the capabilities of its navy? \nThe solution I would like to suggest is land-based AEGIS weapons systems. The heart of the AEGIS system is its air-defense system, capable of tracking hundreds of enemy aircraft and missiles simultaneously. \nThe AEGIS system has been deployed for some time aboard US and Japanese navy cruisers and destroyers. Not only is the air-defense system very expensive, but putting this system aboard a ship further increases costs. Another problem is that installing the sophisticated system on a ship reduces the amount of weaponry the ship can carry. Thus a small number of ships will not be sufficient. The strains of manning and operating destroyers large enough to carry the AEGIS air-defense system and a modest supply of missiles are very great, especially for a small naval force. \nYet for the US and Japan, which have to patrol sea lanes all over the Pacific and Indian oceans, there is no other choice to buying and deploying the AEGIS system. For the foreseeable future, Taiwan will not really be able to afford such a sea-based system, nor will its navy be able to efficiently operate even a small number of AEGIS-equipped ships. \nBut the threat to Taiwan comes from a very specific source: the area of China nearest Taiwan across the Strait. So Tai-wan can meet its defense needs by deploying several AEGIS air-defense systems on its western coast. Deploying the system in this way would not only be cheaper, but also easier to protect as space limitations are not so much of a problem on land as they are on ships. Maybe just two or three AEGIS systems would provide a tremendous anti-air and anti-missile defense. Indeed the combination of land-based AEGIS systems in Taiwan and the sea-based AEGIS ships of the US and Japanese navies could be a very cost-effective counter to the increased threat to Taiwan from China's Sovremenny destroyers and land-based missiles. \nBut how would China react to Taiwan's acquisition of land-based AEGIS systems, especially if, as expected, AEGIS becomes the heart of a future US-Japanese theater missile-defense system? Of course, Beijing would complain loudly, but it is not the US, Japan or Taiwan that is massing missiles in a threatening way and now Sovremenny destroyers that can have no other purpose than to threaten its neighbors. The AEGIS air-defense system is inherently defensive. China is a nuclear-armed nation that refuses to denounce the use of force to subjugate a democratic, free-market republic whose citizens want nothing but to lively freely and independently. \nA land-based AEGIS system for Taiwan seems justified given China's military buildup. It is less provocative, less expensive and more effective than providing Taiwan with sea-based AEGIS ships. And operating AEGIS from shore-based sites will be far less demanding on Taiwan's navy. It seems like a win-win solution for Taiwan, the US and Japan, and an effective counter to China's military plans. \nJames Auer is a professor at Vanderbilt University and former special assistant to the secretary of defense for Japanese affairs.
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