PAC-3: Costly, costlier and of marginal value
A major component of Taiwan’s planned US$6.5 billion arms acquisition from the US is 330 Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) interceptor missiles, as well as associated equipment and services. If all options are exercised,* the total value of the missile acquisition would be US$3.1 billion, nearly half of the total value of the arms package. Adding to this cost would be an as-yet unspecified “research and development” and “production line reinitiation” fee that, according to United Daily News, could reach as much as US$800 million, with possible sharing with other clients (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, who have confirmed purchases this year).
Conservatively, this means that Taiwan’s acquisition of the 330 PAC-3s could amount to US$3.5 billion.
The problem with this purchase, however, is that is does not meet Taiwan’s defense needs against a growing arsenal of Chinese missiles. Given standard procedure of firing two PAC-3s for every missile to be intercepted and assuming an unlikely 100 percent kill ratio (the Pentagon estimates a nine-in-ten hit ratio against incoming Chinese short-range ballistic missiles), Taiwan could, at best, intercept but a fraction of a missile attack, perhaps not even enough to defend critical infrastructure such as command-and-control and airstrips. Analysts have argued that given China’s arsenal of about 1,400 SRBMs — which is growing at an estimated rate of 100 missiles annually — the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could easily overwhelm Taiwan’s PAC-3s, perhaps by using less-precise missiles to deplete the interceptors, followed by a second strike using more precise missiles.
Ironically, the acquisition of PAC-3s by Taiwan could prompt the PLA to increase the number of missiles it aims at the island and, if an attack were launched, to greatly augment the number of missiles used in a strike, to devastating effect for Taiwan.
Given the steep cost of acquiring PAC-3s versus the marginal defense advantage the system confers on Taiwan, it would be fair to caution against the purchase. At best, the PAC-3 should be used ONLY at critical infrastructure and in combination with other measures, such as hardening and redundancy. But even there, the financial cost is prohibitive, perhaps reflecting Washington’s strategy of tying weapons purchases by allies with diplomatic support and, in Taiwan’s case, of confusing “warmer ties” with defense acquisitions.
* Four AN/MPQ-65 Radar Sets, two Tactical Command Stations, two Information and Coordination Centrals, six Communication Replay Groups, four Engagement Control Stations, 24 Launching Stations, 12 Antenna Mast Groups, 282 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) (115 AN/VRC-88E, 96 AN/VRC-90E, 13 AN/VRC-91E, and 58 AN/VRC-92E), 9 Electronic Power Plant III, 50 Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems, battery and battalion maintenance equipment, prime movers, generators, electrical power units, personnel training and equipment, trailers, communication equipment, tool and test sets, spare and repair parts, publications, supply support Quality Assurance Team support services, US Government and contractor engineering and logistics services, technical documentation, and other related elements of logistics support.