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Tuesday, 24 April, 2001, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
US opts for 'strategic balance'
Aegis-radar-equipped Arleigh Burke class destroyer
Taiwan could still receive the Aegis system
By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

United States military planners believe that, while Taiwan's armed forces are heavily outnumbered by those of China, Taiwan still retains a qualitative edge.

China can clearly threaten Taiwan with large numbers of long-range land-based missiles.

AWACS aircraft
China plans to buy Russian equivalents of the American AWACS
But Beijing does not have the capability to mount an amphibious assault against Taiwan - nor will it have in the immediate future - especially if the Taipei government receives strong military support from the United States.

Such a sea-borne offensive would need to be on the scale of the Allied landings in Normandy during World War II, over a much greater distance and against much more capable opposition.

But the view in Washington is that avoiding armed conflict depends upon maintaining a strategic balance in the region.

China upgrade

China has embarked upon its own ambitious naval and air force modernisations.

It is extending the reach of its air force by introducing longer-range aircraft capable of in-flight refuelling.


Taken as a whole the package-deal offered to Taipei represents an impressive modernisation plan for the Taiwanese Navy

It is seeking to upgrade its command and control capabilities, with plans to buy Russian equivalents of the American AWACS aircraft.

And its navy is acquiring much more capable vessels like the Russian Sovremenny-class destroyers delivered last year.

Its submarine forces are also being upgraded. China has some 60 boats including new quieter submarines purchased from Russia.

So the Pentagon has concluded that Taiwan needs to modernise its navy to keep pace.

Attention has largely focused on the Bush Administration's refusal to supply Taiwan with advanced Aegis-radar-equipped Arleigh Burke class destroyers.

But, taken as a whole, the package deal offered to Taipei represents an impressive modernisation plan for the Taiwanese Navy.

New era

The combination of long-range maritime patrol aircraft, new diesel submarines, and four Kidd class destroyers - which have both an anti-air and anti-submarine capability - takes Taiwan into a new era in naval terms.

Taiwan naval personnel
Taiwan needs boost in training
It will have a true submarine force for the first time - new diesel-powered boats joining its existing two Dutch-built submarines and two much older US boats that are useful for little more than training.

The US of course no longer builds diesel submarines to its own design.

Thus, the offer of new boats to Taiwan raises some interesting problems for the Americans who may want to use modern Dutch or German prototypes.

It is unclear if the permission of these governments will be needed.

Valuable experience

It will of course take some time for the Taiwanese to learn to operate these new systems.

China warship in war games off Taiwan's coast
China does not have the capability for an amphibious assault against Taiwan
Indeed, many US experts believe that as much as new equipment, Taiwan needs a significant boost in its training and capabilities.

The Aegis system - much opposed by China - remains on the shelf, though Washington is clearly holding open the possibility of an Aegis sale in the future.

Much depends upon the course of China-Taiwan and Sino-US ties.

But the Kidd Class ships have much in common with the more modern Aegis vessels - and they will provide valuable experience for Taiwanese crews should the Americans decide to go ahead with an Aegis sale in the future.


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24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
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