Saturday, April 19, 2014

To buy or not to buy? A dilemma for Taiwan’s Navy

Instead of wasting precious defense budgets on rather useless and highly vulnerable surface combatants, Taiwan’s military should focus on smaller items that will make the PLA’s life difficult 

As reported by The Diplomat last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing the sale of four decommissioned U.S. Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates under an excess defense article (EDA) reallocation program. Although the expected decision was hailed in some corners as a sign of healthy U.S.-Taiwan relations, the sale of — let’s be honest here — mothballed military equipment makes little sense from a military and economic standpoint. In fact, no sooner had the announcement been made than Taipei, which faces serious budgetary constraints, said it was only interested in acquiring two. This is probably the right decision. A better one yet would be to not buy a single one. 

Plans to pass on the USS Taylor, USS Gary, USS Carr, and USS Elrod to the Taiwan Navy go back a few years. Although the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs agreed to introduce legislation that would authorize the sale of all four frigates in November 2013, Taipei had already decided in late 2011 that it would only seek to acquire two platforms. Reports at the time cited cost and technical considerations, as well as the need for the Taiwanese military to repay nearly US$18 billion in arms purchases from the U.S. since 2008. 

Cost indeed matters, especially when it has become clear that Taiwan cannot afford to engage in a ton-for-ton arms race with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). If the sale proceeds as planned, with plans for delivery in 2015, the two decommissioned frigates, which are to be stripped of all weapons and electronics, will cost Taiwan approximately NT$5.6 billion (US$185 million). To put things in perspective, the acquisition of the two empty hulls, which entered service in 1984-85, will cost Taiwan about 1/57th of its entire annual defense budget, and that does not include the millions more that will be necessary to outfit the vessels with electronics, warfare suites, and weapons systems (presumably Hsiung Feng II and III anti-ship missiles, among others). 

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

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