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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Should the U.S Sell Taiwan New F-16's?

Image 1: Hellenic Air Force F-16D Block 52+  

For years Taiwan has urgently requested the sale of new F-16C/D Block 50/52+ aircraft to supplement its aging fighter force of 145 older F-16A/B block 20 aircraft first ordered in 1992. The Taiwanese air force is incredibly outnumbered.  In total the Republic of China Air Force operates 359 fighter aircraft including the soon to be phased out F-5 Tiger II. Comparatively, the aerial armada assembled by The People's Liberation Army Air Force consists of nearly 1,300 fighter aircraft. Although China still operates fighters designed in the 1960s (J-8 is copy of Soviet designed Mig 21), recently China has spent tens of billions of dollars developing and acquiring advanced 4th generation fighter designs. In response to the increased capabilities of the Chinese Air Force, Taiwan has submitted a proposal in which it would purchase 66 of the new Lockheed F-16C/D Block 50/52+ fighters. The Obama Administration deemed such a sale impossible. Given the recent $6.4 billion dollar arms sale between the U.S and Taiwan in 2009, another sale of new equipment of this magnitude would not be tolerated by Beijing. Ties between the United States and China are delicate as strategic dialogue between the two nations has finally resumed. (China typically cuts strategic dialogue with the U.S in response to arms sales to Taiwan such was the case in 2009) However, under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is obligated to provide Taiwan with adequate defensive equipment (e.g. "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character" - Taiwan Relations Act, 1979) Thus, the Obama Administration decided to compromise. Under the Obama Administration's proposal, Taiwan's fleet of 145 F-16A/B Block 20 fighters would receive numerous upgrades worth $5.3 billion dollars. Although China naturally condemned the proposed upgrades, they haven't taken serious action as with previous arms sales. This hints that Beijing has been placated for the moment. Ultimately, the decision to upgrade Taiwan's current fighters rather than allowing the purchase of new jets is the right call. Not only will the United States not loose the recent diplomatic gains made with China, but also the Taiwanese will be in a better position to defend themselves. The new upgrades for Taiwan's jets will be explained in detail along with a military recommendation that helps ensure Taiwan's continued autonomy.

Image 2: Chinese built J-10 fighters shown below. As with most Chinese designs they are heavily "influenced" by foreign designs. The tail section of the J-10 draws upon the F-16 design (Pakistan likely let China examine some of its F-16s which is yet another reason not to sell Pakistan more high grade arms) while many other aspects of the plane have been taken from the Israeli designed IAI Lavi fighter.

Proposed F-16 Upgrades

Although Taiwan is not receiving any new jets, the proposed upgrade package will essentially grant the Taiwanese F-16s comparable capabilities to the Block 50/52+ variants they originally requested. The proposed upgrades include:

"176 sets of Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars; Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems (GPS_INS) and 128 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS) and Night Vision Goggles ...140 AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles and support systems. Upgrades to the APX-113 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) combined interrogator transponders and HAVE GLASS II which includes the ‘golden canopy’ derived from the F-22 Raptor and other treatments for radar and thermal signature reduction...U.S. offers a significant weapons package for the upgraded Viper, including GPS guided bombs (GBU-31v1 and GBU-38 JDAM), Laser JDAM (GBU-56) or GPS Enhanced Laser Guided Weapons (GBU-10 Enhanced Paveway II) and Enhanced Paveway III 200 pound laser guided bombs. Also included are CBU-105 sensor fused weapons...Part of the upgrade will also include the modernization of the aircraft electronic warfare and self protection systems, to include the ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management systems...Taiwanese Vipers will be equipped are 86 tactical data link terminals, deliver 26 advanced targeting pods – both the AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER  from Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-28 LITENING. In addition, Taiwan’s existing 28 Sharpshooter electro-optical infrared targeting pods will be upgraded. The new supply of targeting systems will double the number of Taiwan’s air force fighters carrying advanced targeting systems for use with precision guided weapons...Through the modernization process the aircraft could also be fitted with improved engine, replacing the original F100-PW-220 powerplant with the latest model F100-PW-229 engines. Other upgrades could include the replacement of Modular Mission Computers, cockpit multifunction displays, communication equipment, Joint Mission Planning Systems." (Defense Update, 2012)  

With these upgrades, Taiwan's F-16s will become unrecognizable compared to their previous form. These enhancements represent a monumental increase in capability for Taiwan's F-16s and will make the improved F-16s the deadliest fighter operating within the Taiwanese strait until the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter enters service. The most notable upgrade within the package is the inclusion of an unspecified AESA radar. 

Image 3: A Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) in use on a Belgian Air Force F-16AM (upgraded F-16A with similar capabilities of F-16C Block 50) is shown below. With A JHMCS system, off bore sight capable infrared guided missiles, e.g. AIM-9X, can be used. Essentially with a JHMCS a pilot can look at an enemy aircraft and achieve missile lock. Aside from targeting enemy aircraft, the JHMCS displays relevant fight data such as altitude, airspeed, etc. The overall effect of easily accessible information displayed on a JHMCS is heightened situational awareness the of pilot. 

Taiwan's upgraded F-16s will also feature HAVE GLASS II radar reduction treatments which consist of radar absorbent material (RAM) coatings applied to the airframe and an improved canopy which will reflect fewer radar waves. Overall, the HAVE GLASS II treatments will lower the F-16's radar cross section (rcs) and make the F-16's more capable in jamming enemy radars through "reducing the burn-through range (the point at which a radar defeats jamming because the reflection is stronger than the jamming signal)." (Avation Week, 2009)  It should be noted that the RAM coatings hardly make the upgraded F-16s qualified as genuine stealth aircraft. To the extent in which the HAVE GLASS II treatments reduce the F-16's rcs are unknown. Official rcs figures for military aircraft are extremely hard to come by if not nonexistent to the public domain. However, what is known is that stealth can only be achieved through both shaping techniques to an aircraft's airframe (e.g. planform alignment design technique) and RAM. Lockheed engineers have stated that stealth is achieved by 80% shaping techniques and 20% by RAM coatings. The fundamental non-stealthy airframe of the F-16 remains unchanged, thus the upgraded F-16s will not be qualified as stealth aircraft. However, these treatments will reduce the detection range of the aircraft to enemy radars in addition to assisting in jamming other radars.  In total, at least 1,700 F-16s have undergone HAVE GLASS II treatments.  (Lockheed Martin)

Image 4: HAVE GLASS II canopy with signature orange tint 

Image 5: F-16 with HAVE GLASS II RAM coating shown below. F-16s with HAVE GLASS II can be identified by its unique rough texture and visual appearance resembling a paint with metallic flakes throughout.

Military Recommendation I to Taiwanese Armed Forces 

The new upgraded Taiwanese F-16s will be indispensable in holding off any potential Chinese invasion assuming they aren't all destroyed on the ground. The new fighter aircraft will be of little value in the face of hundreds of cruise missiles and conventional ballistic missiles that would likely be launched in the opening hours of the conflict. Missiles such as the DF-3, DF-21, DF-11, and DF-15 would likely be utilized by Chinese forces. RAND predicts that such missiles would target Taiwanese early warning radars, SAM sites, and airfields. A single cruise missile carrying cluster munitions could easily disable dozens of unprotected aircraft left on a run way. The solution is to build hardened aircraft hangars that would resist a cluster munition strike. Although powerful, many of the ballistic missile types listed above have a low degree of accuracy. In their current form, only a few of China's ballistic missiles would be capable of hitting the proposed hardened shelters. The rest would be used to target run ways which can be easily repaired if airbase personnel have prepared accordingly. (APA, 2011) However, China has been breaking ground on its new GPS system known as the Beidou navigation system. As of 2011, the Beidou allows the Chinese military to use GPS within China and the surrounding area including Taiwan. With such a system, much more accurate ballistic missile warheads and access to precision guided munitions becomes possible. The Beidou is expected to provide global coverage by 2020. Taiwan has two options to deal with the newer GPS munitions. One, construct underground hangar facilities like China or develop GPS jamming abilities to deny usage of the Beidou system over the Taiwanese strait as suggested by RAND. Underground hangars provide unparalleled protection from bombardment but remain incredibly expensive and are only practical if geography permits. The more economically feasible solution is to utilize hardened aircraft shelters in conjunction with GPS jamming equipment. It should be noted however that any GPS jamming system would be of little use against other types of precision guided munitions such as laser guided munitions. 

Image 6: Hardened Aircraft Shelter (HAS) utilized by USAF at Kadena AFB Japan (Image credit USAF)

Image 7: Underground Hangar Facility used by Chinese forces. China operates 40 underground aircraft hangar facilities (Air Power Australia, 2011) Such a facility would grant protection from all but the heaviest bunker buster bombs e.g. the 20 foot long 30,000lb Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP). China currently has no equivalent of the U.S designed MOP. (Image taken from APA) 

Image 8: Massive Ordnance Penetrator bomb. The MOP contains 5,300 pounds of high explosives and can penetrate 60 feet of 5,000 psi rated concrete or 25 feet of 10,000 rated concrete. (Global Security,  2012)

Military Recommendation II to Taiwanese Armed Forces

The first proposal helps ensure the survivability of Taiwanese airbases in the case of a sustained major attack. The second proposal further improves the survivability of the Taiwanese armed forces. Even with a GPS jamming system in addition to hardening airbases, the survivability of Taiwan's airbases is far from assured. In some cases, the best way to ensure an asset's continued survivability is to keep it hidden rather than protecting it in the open. Submarines are the principle example of this philosophy in warfare. In many ways, submarines are like stealth aircraft. They require meticulous attention to every detail in their design as to minimize the chance of detection, both are incredibly expensive, and both require a large number of immensely talented and experinced engineers to build. In total the Taiwanese Navy operates 4 submarines. The Trench class submarines sold from the U.S and given to the Taiwanese Navy were designed and built between 1944 and 1951. The other two submarines currently in service are the Zwaardvis class submarines bought from the Netherlands in the 1980s. David Axe argues that "The best weapons for delaying a Chinese attack are ones that can’t be targeted by ballistic missiles – and that could confront a Chinese invasion fleet far from Taiwan's shores. That means submarines." (Axe, 2011).  

Image 9: One of Taiwan's only capable attack submarines, the Hai Lung class submarine. The Hai Lung are Netherlands built diesel electric attack submarines based off of the last diesel electric submarine design  used by the U.S, the Barbel class submarine. 

Taiwan MUST purchase high quality attack submarines. The Taiwanese Navy effectively operates two submarines compared to China's 60 submarines. Taiwan's lack of submarine's poses a much more serious security concern than the rising gap between the Taiwanese and Chinese air forces. A fleet of upgraded F-16s could harass a Chinese Navy invasion force with anti ship-missiles but a force of submarines would be more effective as they would be harder to find and destroy. Therefore, in terms of which submarines to acquire there are many options. Domestically producing high quality attack submarines is not an option. As stated previously, engineering and building a high quality submarine is a daunting task. Even nations with robust military budgets like Russia have trouble designing stealthy submarines e.g. Yasen class submarine. Thus, it is highly unlikely that Taiwan would be able to develop its own high quality class of attack submarines. Purchasing submarines from the United States is not an option for main two reasons. Politically, such a sale would be impossible given both the $5.3 billion dollar proposed upgrades for F-16s and the $6.4 billion 2009 sale. Although the United States arguably builds the best submarines in the world, the United States only operates nuclear submarines. Obviously, the sale of nuclear powered attack submarines to Taiwan would be impossible. Taiwan needs a diesel electric submarine that can operate within the strait and surrounding area (no need for global range e.g. nuclear) and they ability to remain undetected by Chinese forces. An added benefit of diesel electric submarines is they typically quieter and less expensive than their nuclear powered counterparts. (Though they lack the extended endurance and speed of nuclear submarines) 

The Type 209 class submarine built by the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft ship building company fulfills all the requirements listed above. HDW has a history of providing the most capable exported diesel electric submarines in the world including the Type 209 and Type 2014 submarines. The Type 209 has been sold to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Greece, India, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, and Venezuela.  The standard Type 209 model can be purchased at $285 million dollars which is a very reasonable price in comparison to other similar submarine models. The Dolphin class submarines (upgraded & heavily modified Type 209) used by the Israeli Navy should be of particular interest to Taiwan. Although much more expensive than the standard Type 209 submarines (roughly $700 million dollars a submarine), the Dolphin class is much more capable. (Defense Industry Daily, 2012) Using its larger 650mm torpedo tubes, the Dolphin class submarines can launch cruise missiles such as the 1,500 km range capable Popeye turbo. If Taiwan purchased the Dolphin class, not only would it be in a better position to deny easy access to Taiwan but also Taiwan would have a "second strike" capability if missiles based on mainland of Taiwan are destroyed. However, Taiwan would likely have to develop its own cruise missile which is doable. Taiwan has already developed Hsiung Feng II and Hsiung Feng III missiles. Taiwan might be able to extend the range and payload of the Hsiung Feng II while making it submarine launched capable. Israel went through a similar process when the Clinton Administration denied the sale of Tomahawk cruise missiles to Israel. Israel took the Popeye land attack missile and heavily modified it into a nuclear capable 1,500 km range cruise missile. Despite the fact that Israel has much more experience in designing missiles than Taiwan, RAND astutely noted in their report that Taiwan can learn a great deal from Israel. Both nations are in similar situations with hostile neighbors that threaten their security. As for the plausibility of Taiwan purchasing a submarines from Germany, I am not an expert in German-Chinese relations so I do not know if such a sale is possible. From the limited amount I do know on German-Chinese relations, it would be difficult to secure a sale. If Taiwan cannot get a Type 209 directly from Germany it might be able to acquire a used Type 209 from one of the nations that have already bought the Type 209 e.g. South Korea. If this option is not possible, Taiwan might be able to buy the French built Scorpene class  diesel electric submarines. France has historically sold Taiwan high quality equipment but has not done so for the last decade due to increased pressure from Beijing. 

Image 10: Dolphin class submarine

Image 11: Submarine launched Tomahawk cruise missile 

In any event, Taiwan must make the acquisition of capable diesel electric submarines a priority. The acquisition of even 3 or 4 standard Type 209 submarines would greatly enhance Taiwan's security. Any attempt to land troops into Taiwan would become exponentially more difficult for China if Taiwan had more attack submarines. If funds from the proposed F-16 upgrades need to be diverted to purchasing submarines than so be it. Taiwan is already struggling to pay for all of its recent defense acquisitions but Taiwan's need for attack submarines is very real. 


Image 11: Hellenic Air Force F-16D Block 52+

Image 12:  F-16s preforming an elephant walk at Kunsan AFB in South Korea


  1. A two year old topic. But anyways, shouldn't Taiwan (R.O.C) also think about employing a Anti-Access/Area-Denial strategies such as having a good quantities of Hsiung Feng land-based anti-ship missiles (I, II, III series) instead? Since purchasing diesel-electric submarines is going to be staggeringly expensive for Taiwan and requires a lot of talented expertise and resources to do it so I think that it's a good idea to stick with the cheaper but efficient alternative like I've suggested above. Besides, even if Taiwan did manage to get those diesel-electric submarines like you suggested in order, how are they going to deal with the PLA Submarine Fleet which in total have around 67-70 of them? Unless those P-3 Orion and the Olivar Hazard Perry-class frigates with Anti-Submarine capabilities that Taiwan has ordered is more than enough to fill this type of role to deal with them. However, I would agree that the upgraded F-16's along with a good number of Hsiung Feng Land-based anti-ship missile (I, II, III series) should be more than enough to deal with the PLA's navy and amphibious assault ships. Thought recently, the US are going to help Taiwan build their own indigenous diesel-electric submarines from what I've heard.
    Though I have one question, how are the F-16 upgrades for Taiwan doing so far? I've heard that the USAF dropped the F-16 capes program due to budget constraints, so is there any side-effects it had on Taiwan as well despite the fact that the USAF says that Taiwan is still getting the upgraded F-16's in place?

    1. Well the problem is survivability of Taiwanese platforms to launch anti-ship missiles or cruise missiles. In the opening hours of a conflict, its more than likely China will launch hundreds of ballistic missiles at key Taiwanese Command and Control sites, air fields, supply depots, etc. Thus, assets that have high survivability and can operate autonomously are ideal for Taiwan, submarines have the potential to fulfill both of these needs especially since Chinese ASW is severely lacking. Taiwanese submarines do not need to defeat all 70+ Chinese submarines, they only need to disrupt an amphibious invasion force which is limited by China's 8 or so assault ships. They would also be supported by US Virginia class submarines (I've read that between 8-10 US attack submarines patrol near China at any one time). You are correct from a pragmatic standpoint however, its going to be very difficult to get Taiwan capable diesel electric submarines and I highly doubt the Taiwanese domestic shipbuilding industry is capable (even with some US aid) of producing the ships.

      I'm actually in the midst of writing an article about ways in which the US can bolster Taiwan's security given the constraints of the US-China relationship. My understanding with respect to CAPES is that the costs are more expensive for Taiwan but are still affordable enough for Taiwan to purchase. However, I recall Taiwan is exploring other options such as Raytheon's RACR F-16 radar instead of SABR.

  2. Yeah, I can see why diesel-electric submarines would greatly benefit Taiwan's defense capabilities if they have no control over air and naval for very long against the PLA while disrupting their amphibious and naval capabilities but at the same time remain stealthy. In fact, I actually do hope that the Germans are willingly enough to offer those Type 209 Submarines to Taiwan despite Chinese pressure which sadly is still going to be difficult to obtain and again, the talented expertise that Taiwan is going to need to train with a lot of costs. Then again, even if the PLA did manage to land a considerable amount of troops near the shores or beach-landing, it still wouldn't be an easy task to achieve which would make Normandy look like a picnic park as soon as Taiwan's ground forces keeps them pinned down and delay their advance. The PLA is going to need to put a number of divisions ashore on the first day and then they will have to land follow-on to bring the total up to probably over 200,000 men approx. Then they must also provide logistic support which takes a while. But unlike the Normandy invasion, there are only limited opportunities for deception as to where the invasion will take place and both Sea Control and Air superiority contested. That's why in case Taiwan definitely can not afford to have those diesel submarines in place, they should considered investing more in cheap anti-access/area-denial weapons like anti-ship and surface-to-surface missile types. How accurate are these Chinese ballistic missile anyway? As long as they are hidden or well-protected, I think that Taiwan should also considered building a number of cruise missile to target key parts of China's infrastructure (power plants, electrical substations, water/sewage treatment facilities) would also help impose unacceptable costs to the invaders. If they want to stick to purely military targets than radars and other command and control assets such as satellite antennas make good targets as well.

    And from what I've heard, Japan recently by changing its defense policies to collective-self defense is also considering to enact their own version of the TRA (Taiwan Relations Act) to further strengthen both ties and help their defense needs thus balancing out the U.S Asia-Pacific alliances. And the fact that both Taiwan and Japan faces similar geopolitical problems with the PRC. What are your thoughts and how do you think it should be done?

    Also, I'm curious, are there any differences between the SABR and RACR or not really at all? And speaking of the J-20/J-31 which might pose a threat to Taiwan, I've read somewhere that the new AESA Radar being retrofitted on the F-16 could possibly detect the Chinese Stealth Fighter whether it's really feasible or not. The AESA is not only designed to track multiple targets from longer ranges simultaneously in a matter of seconds, but it can also detect low-rcs targets such as cruise missiles after-all, right? What do you think?

    1. Given that the submarine deal is on ice at the moment, the next best alternative (low cost anti-access weapons) will certainly help Taiwan's security situation but its important to realize their limitations. The accuracy varies among the DF-11 and DF-15 missiles and the more modern variants (10m-600m) but the more accurate missiles would likely be reserved for priority targets like Command and Control sites or Taiwan's Pave Paws radar site while the less accurate missiles could either be used in saturation attacks or employ cluster munition warheads against soft targets such as open non-hardened launch sites or air fields.

      The problem with hiding sites is the Taiwanese military is severely compromised by Chinese intelligence. Hiding sites also can work during a war if they are moved around constantly but static hidden sites will inevitably be detected. For example, after the collapse of the USSR, we learned that the Soviet Union had known the locations all hidden US nuclear launch sites in Western Europe.

      One of the major reasons why myself and many other Americans are hesitant to provide Taiwan with access to top grade US military technology are Taiwanese defectors:

      One of my recommendations which I will discuss in an upcoming article is the US needs to provide the Taiwanese government with major counter-intelligence (CI) support, we simply cannot help Taiwan effectively unless the threat of US tech. falling into Chinese hands is severely mitigated. If Taiwanese CI improves, the US could provide Taiwan with assistance via contractors, not official or affiliated members of the US Government but who still have the necessary expertise. This would grant the US diplomatic cover while still providing Taiwan with what it needs. Furthermore, I'm sure Japan would be willing to send covert assistance to Japan to strengthen its domestic defense industry if CI improves.

      I don't believe there is a significant difference between RACR and SABR both are within the 1,000 T/R element class AESAs. Its possible it could detect the J-20 from the rear given the unshielded engine nozzles but the quest is range especially from the frontal aspect. If the J-20 has a 1,500 T/R class AESA its going to be able to engage the F-16s long before being detected. Taiwanese air force could really benefit from IRST pods, improved radar warning receivers, and electronic jamming and countermeasure equipment.

  3. *Japan would likely be willing to send covert assistance to Taiwan in the development of diesel electric submarines, an area in which it rivals Germany for the best diesel electric submarines:

  4. Looks like you know your stuff quite well and I agree completely! :) Perhaps the most important thing we should also worry about for Taiwan the most at this point is to have major counter-intelligence (CI) support as well for the country's armed forces to have enough willpower and moral edges to defend the island too. But don't you kind of find it odd that even though the Chinese would oppose any kinds of arms sales to Taiwan despite having numerous spies in that country to obtain some secrets from it? I guess it all has to do with the political factors rather. Think those upgraded F-16s would be well-equipped to deal with the numerous PLAAF current 4th gen fighters as well as their naval ships with numerous numbers? Especially backed up by E-2 AWACs along with a number of F-CK-1 IDF fighters and some Mirage 2000s which would act as missile trucks?
    Anyways, it was a pleasure having some discussions with you. Looking forward to see you some more articles in the future and especially the one you'll write about on how the US could improve Taiwan's security given the constraints of the US-China relations.

  5. One more thing, if Taiwan still can not get those new F-16C/D from the U.S, should Taiwan also consider upgrading the fleet of Mirage 2000s by purchasing new weapons stocks and spare parts from the UAE or Qatar possibly? Considering that the UAE isn't heavily reliant or have too much influence with China from what I've heard.

    1. China is working to expand its influence in the Middle East but as of Iran's principle supplier of arms (despite the sanctions) I'm sure they are not too popular in the UAE or other states allied with the US against Iran:

      But I doubt they would openly be willing to conduct a sale. Nations are much more willing to go through with extreme actions if they believe it will not enter the public domain e.g. Cuba and Burma recently supplying North Korea with arms. The problem is both the UAE and Qutar's marginal benefit from assisting Taiwan does not outweigh the potential marginal cost as they are not poor nations, the political elites within those countries are responsible for some of the highest GDP per capita figures in the world (Qatar is #1). So money likely is not going to be a motivating factor AND drawing the ire of Beijing for the next decade if they are caught is a high price.

      With US assistance I'm sure they're be a way to do it (e.g. we got titanium out of the Soviet Union through front companies for the SR-71), but the bottom line is: for every extra dollar you spend on those Mirage 2000s with your finite resources, is less money you could spend modernizing your F-16A fleet or preforming the mid-life upgrade on the FC-K-1 fleet. From what I hear the cost to maintain the Mirage fleet past 2020 simply doesn't make sense given other air force projects:

      "Mirage 2000v5s are the most advanced in the fleet, but they are so expensive to maintain, and have had such chronic difficulties with the aircraft’s turbine fan blades, that Taiwan is considering retiring them." -

      Even if you got the parts, those Mirage-2000s would be nearly 30 years old by 2020 so I don't know how many flight hours they would realistically have left. A major service life extension program would be needed to keep them flying much past 2020. If I was in Taiwan's ministry of Defense, I'd probably rather allocate funds to the FC-K-1, F-16A upgrade, and a potential FC-K-1 follow on aircraft (similar to the Gripen maybe cheap 4.5 generation). I've read Taiwan wants a domestic stealth aircraft but that is realistically out of the question, a reduced radar cross section aircraft with a similar design ethos as the Korean KF-X would me much more plausible:

  6. You know, I find it rather contradicting that the U.S would not sell new F-16C/D models to Taiwan even though they have sold it to Pakistan which is a close ally to China that possibly got some secrets from it. The question is whether this is actually a worst-of-all-possible worlds outcome: showing weakness abroad on Taiwan, failing to extend the F-16 production line and tens of thousands of American jobs at home, and offering cutting-edge technology that risks falling into the hands of Chinese intelligence. And if security issues and espionage within Taiwan is one of the biggest reasons why the U.S is hesitated to sell more advanced weaponry to Taiwan, why haven't the U.S or even Japan done more to provide Taiwan the counter-intelligence supports they needed long ago? I think that Taiwan, a democratic country and an important ally with the U.S deserves better than that, getting the upgraded F-16A/B's along with the new F-16C/D block 50/52 models as requested would certainly improve its national defenses to deter against China's unilateral change of its status quo. The U.S needs to get more serious and step up with its commitment to the TRA despite pressures from China. Otherwise, if the US doesn't help out one of its closest allies despite the treaties it has with Taiwan, its going to cause a lot of damage to its influence with every other ally it has defensive treaties with. If it can't guarantee support to Taiwan, can it really support other countries if they get into a similar conflict? The US simply has too much reputation at stake to NOT defend Taiwan.

  7. Its worth remembering that the goals of the rebalance or pivot is engagement and deterrence with respect to China. The US has demonstrated on a routine basis, in good faith, that it desires to peacefully integrate China into the international order and has sought to increase military to military contacts. The last arms sale to Taiwan China suspended its military to military ties but we have made major progress since then with Admiral Greenert's visits, Admiral Wu Shengli's visit to the US, and China's participation at RIMPAC, etc. Engagement with China such as ensuring mil to mil relations are strong is firmly within US interests as it reduces the chances of miscalculation and serves as a release valve for tensions.

    China's reaction to the F-16 upgrade plan was muted which indicates they also want to expand mil to mil ties with the US rather than going back to square one. We have several competing interests in Asia and getting too entrenched with respect to Taiwan isn't prudent. Now if China were to move against the US in a major way, or against one of its key allies like Japan, then the US certainly could take punitive action against China via new arms sales to Taiwan. Japan's recent export ban of weapons could also assist Taiwan. China's leaders have indicated they seek to integrate Taiwan into China over decades rather than through a major military operation. China's leaders have a long outlook on these issues and the CCP Politburo Standing Committee knows even it was successful in Taiwan militarily, it would dramatically shape the regional strategic outlook in favor of the US and its allies by virtue of China alienating and intimidating its neighbors. The ultimate Chinese fear is strategic encirclement which this would facilitate. Only if we didn't come to aid Taiwan in the midst of a full on Chinese invasion would US credibility significantly deteriorate across the Pacific, credibility in general is evaluated in crises by: a nation's capability X the extent of national interests at stake. For example, neither the USSR nor the European NATO allies were significantly affected in their reasoning post Vietnam in terms of US credibility that it would defend Western Europe: capability X extent of national security interests.

  8. In other news, just recently, the Taiwan Defense Minister reports that Taiwan is still considering getting the F-16C/D despite reports that Taiwan is no longer interested in purchasing the F-16C/D to beef up its air defense. They also have plans to possibly purchase other advanced fighter from the U.S, possibly the F-35B STOVL thanks to its ability to take off in short improvised runways once their main air fields are down from massive PLA ballistic missile and air attacks. Even though Taiwan Defense Minister admits that it is nearly impossible to obtain advanced fighters like the F-35B in a short term, let alone the political factors and security issues that still needs to be address seriously.

    I still think that diesel-electric submarines are just as important, if not the top priority that Taiwan needs to put more effort to undoubtedly.

  9. I've been thinking, how well do you think Taiwan's new AH-64E Apache fleets armed with over 1,000 AGM-114L Hellfire Missiles in total and backed up by those Super Cobras could deal against the PLA amphibious fleet for long range engagement? So long as Taiwan has gain some advantage to air superiority that is. As well, those new UH-60M Black Hawks that Taiwan is ordering should also be retrofitted to carry AGM-114L Hellfire Missiles too. Attack Helicopters are also very useful in operating improvised or hidden airfields as well, not as good as submarines, but still worth something.

  10. At least with regards to an American intervention, the Chinese open source literature I've read shows their philosophy is go after the assets that enable weapons employment rather than the weapons themselves e.g. go after airbases and logistics. I think Taiwan can make any initial Chinese invasion very costly but the longer the Chinese offensive goes on, the harder it will be for the Taiwanese to operate their fleet of attack helicopters while China continues to pour units in. China's naval vessels are armed with a range of short, medium, and long range anti-aircraft missiles which would no doubt accompany the amphibious invasion force. The Taiwanese attack helicopters might have to engage from further inland at standoff range to avoid taking excess casualties (every single one counts). I know Taiwan is also working on 180 and 230 mm MLRS systems which would further make any Chinese amphibious incursion very difficult:

    Yeah Sikorsky is now working on "BattleHawk" kits which would be of use to Taiwan. The level III kit includes a 20 mm nose mounted cannon and the ability to carry rockets and missiles.

  11. A dumb question, but I would like to hear your thoughts on whether or not Taiwan's Military has the will, confidence and determination to fight for their own defense against the PLA. One thing that concerns me is the number of recruits and soldiers in Taiwan who thinks that serving in the military is pointless, and the possibility of Taiwan to become suddenly weakened and demoralized to fight on, just like what we saw with the Iraqi Army of 30,000 soldiers who suddenly retreated from a small number of roughly 800 ISIS fighters. Not to mention, the number of spies from Mainland China within Taiwan is also worrying and difficult to deal with unless they get the counter-intelligence support they need from the U.S and Japan as soon as possible. Is Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China (ROC) fine the way it is for now?

    1. As a disclaimer, I do not profess to know a great deal about psychological warfare or related matters. I'd guess they wouldn't have a great issue with desertions in combat beyond what can be expected of modern western styled militaries due to two factors: (1) Taiwan's army is now an all volunteer force vs. conscripts (2) any military action would be in defense of their homes and they have nowhere to run - Taiwan is comparatively geographically small and units would be unable to escape a major conflict with China.

      Historically speaking, when armies have to fight for their own survival and they are on the defensive, they tend to fight fiercely, I believe Sun Tzu wrote something along similar lines in the Art of War but I'm not positive. In peacetime, its a different story. You can certainly have poor morale and the attitude in which you described but if a war begins, I'd be very surprised to see mass desertions. That doesn't mean Taiwan would be able to fend off China, it just means in wartime Taiwanese soldiers by and large will fight. Pubic opinion polls in Taiwan consistently show a bias against re-unification.

      With regards to the fall of Mosul, the regime soldiers were Shiite protecting the largely Sunni city. Given the sectarian hostility toward one another prior to the rise of ISIL, the regime soldiers were not willing to fight and die to protect the Sunnis. In short, they had no underlying motivation behind staying and fighting ISIL militants who were very well motivated to fight through extremist ideology. Similarly, the Shiite militias have proven to be very effective at holding territory but have preformed poorly when going on the offensive. This is all on top of the rampant corruption, poor discipline, and poor leadership within the Iraqi Army decayed the force into irrelevance. Taiwan's military is a stark contrast to Iraq. It has a motivated fighting force (at least in a conflict with China) and maintains professionalism.

      Its a subjective, nobody can really know conclusively until after the fact. There are only degrees of certainty, and I'd say Taiwan needs major improvements beyond what is currently planned if it intends to meet its objective of stalling a Chinese invasion long enough until the arrival of American forces. Improving the following would help Taiwan a great deal: counter intelligence, sea mines, anti-ship cruise missiles, GPS jammers, electronic warfare, submarines, hardened facilities, dispersed mobile units, counter special operations/infiltration, and training its troops to use insurgent tactics in the event of a military collapse - placing pre-positioned stockpiles of munitions for insurgent use, etc.

  12. Well that's some sign of relief that Taiwan is far from what the Iraqi Military is capable of. But also, shouldn't the U.S Government seriously considered offering Taiwan short take-off aircraft like the Harrier II or the F-35B STOVL variant even though it's unlikely? I'm also curious to see what South Korea or even Singapore do in the event of a massive PLA attack in Taiwan whether they should offer any real military assistance aside from sanctions and so fourth.

    Anyways, I just hope that Taiwan should be prepared for the worse despite improving some ties with the Mainland.

    1. Well the technical expertise required to operate a VTOL fighter aircraft like the harrier and F-35B is not easy to come by and they are expensive to operate. For the same amount of money, Taiwan could buy a lot more "cost effective' weapon systems such as sea mines, cruise missiles, etc. Plus there is the counter intelligence issue, the US is not willing to risk having the tech from the aircraft that will compose the majority of its air force fall into Chinese hands. Taiwan's domestic defense industry (and to a lesser extent MAYBE Japan) are Taiwan's only hope really of getting a new fighter aircraft at this point. The problem is not only the capability based, Taiwan is having trouble funding its current upgrade programs as it is, so any new fighter aircraft would have to be paid for somehow. Taiwan's defense budget is already pretty high relative to its size, $10 billion for 2014 or 2.2% of its GDP.

  13. Hey Matt, do you think Japan should seriously offer the new Soryu-Class submarines to Taiwan if there's an opportunity just like what they're doing with Australia? This might also be Taiwan's new hope to purchase new diesel-electric submarines as promised and would be a win-to-win for Tokyo and Taipei to strengthen the two country's ties together. :) How would Japan do this first of all?

    1. I doubt Japan would sell the Soryu to Taiwan unless China made an incursion into the Senkaku islands or some similar incident. Furthermore, like the US, Japan wouldn't want to sell their best gear to Taiwan such that the Chinese could gain access to it. The next best alternative would be Taiwan asking for behind the scenes assistance to Japan in the development of its domestic submarines, which Japan could do in a covert manner. They would likely be willing to take actions to complicate a Chinese invasion of Taiwan so long as they could deny it in public. The problem is, both Taiwan and Japan are independently of one of another trying to improve relations with China as opposed with each other. The KMT Party in Taiwan is trying to formalize agreements with China before they are kicked out of office and Abe recently preformed a cabinet reshuffle in which he promoted several pro-China officials:

      Japan-Taiwan Relations:

  14. Also, how much problem would the S-300/400 SAM batteries pose to Taiwan's upgraded F-16s and other current fighters?

    1. I wrote a piece on this a while back that you might find interesting, it also details the potential for Lada class submarines and the acquisition of Su-35s. Let me know what you think! :)

    2. Excellent article. I think that this makes new U.S arms sales to Taiwan inevitable if China were to acquire these new advanced weapons from Russia while a new conflict were to break loose across the Taiwan Strait at any critical moment. Though aside from getting new aircraft or submarines, would long-range stand off weapons benefit Taiwan to deal with the S-300/400? Can the F-16 or Super Hornet even take off in short runways most of all if Taiwan were to acquire these new aircrafts?

      About Taiwan's missile batteries, I heard that the PAC-3 specifically is less effective against aircraft despite its effectiveness in dealing with ballistic missiles while PAC-2 GEM or the Sky Bow II/III should have no problem with dealing aircrafts. Your thoughts?

      And about the Lada submarines, if the PLA indeed were to acquire them in their naval inventory, how effective would Taiwan's newly purchased P-3 Orions or the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates with Anti-Submarine capabilities as planned by Taiwan's defense ministry deal with the Lada Submarines along with the rest of the PLA's current submarine fleet in order to protect Taiwan's supply routes?

      Geez, I'm asking too much questions am I? But I'm just very curious and what to know your thoughts, that's all. :P

    3. No problem, I'm always happy to answer questions :) Stand off weapons would be ideal, which is what Taiwan is pursuing via the 200 km range Wan Chien missile which can be equipped on FCK-1s that have undergone mid life upgrades:

      I'm not knowledgeable about short take off and landing so I'm not entirely sure. Though there is a lot of material on hardening runways and measures to quickly repair damaged runways after Chinese missile strikes (within hours) if prepositioned supplies are available. Ref section hardening:

      You are correct with respect to the PAC-3, the missile is designed to be more capable against ballistic missiles and is thus more maneuverable but has a shorter range (however each canister holds 4 missiles vs. 1 with the PAC-2). The PAC-2 GEM upgrades improves performance against small rcs targets like cruise missiles and potentially enemy stealth aircraft which would be useful to Taiwan:

      Although the US has never really relied upon SAMs because its air force has been superior to any potential adversary unlike the Soviet, now Russian systems, which had to compensate with SAMs due to a comparatively less well funded and equipped air force. Taiwan does not enjoy the same luxury.

      I am not too familiar with the Sky Bow system aside from basic information so I wouldn't be able to realistically compare it to the Patriot. I have read that it is a similar system to the PAC-2.

      The P-3 is very capable but Taiwanese P-3's currently lack appropriate anti-submarine weapons and the US refuses to let Taiwan produce its own domestic weapons to equip US P-3s:

      Even if Taiwan did get the weapons for those P-3s, they likely couldn't protect them for long as Taiwan would loose air superiority very quickly. The best they can do is to try and enforce an area denial strategy until the US shows up.

      I do not know how modern the towed sonar arrays are on the Oliver Perry's but Taiwan does have S-70 Seahawks with towed sonars which should be very useful for anti-submarine warfare missions.

      If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you a few questions! :) I'm always trying to improve this blog, do you have any ideas and how did you come across this blog in the first place? Thanks

    4. PLA's current submarine fleet aren't nearly as advanced anyways, and the Perry-class frigates are still capable ships which are being refurbished and some upgrades for Taiwan should have no problems in conducting anti-submarine warfare so long as it gets air cover while protecting the supply routes as its primary mission.

      Now how to deal with the S-300/400. Aside from making more stand-off weapons s I suggested earlier on, I think that something similar like the Raytheon's MALD (Miniature Air-Launched Decoy) would benefit Taiwan favorably in disrupting the PLA's Integrated Air Defense systems to some extent while keeping some air superiority in Taiwan's favor.

      As for questions, there really isn't much to say about improving the blog aside from having a better background, preferably dark that is. You seem to know your stuff very well, more than I do, so yeah. And how I got to your blog in the first, well, I just happen to be interested in looking at military matters and some political development in certain countries while searching on the web randomly. And then, I just happen to saw some of your articles. The first being Canada and the F-35, then comes with a strategy to counter-balance against the PLA Anti-Acess/Area-Denial, J-20/PAK-FA threat analysis, arms sales and so fourth. All the information's you've collected in a well-written paragraphs not only caught me very interested in reading more of your analysis in each events, but it also helps improved my English too. :)

      And when I looked at this particular article, I'm also very interested in the development going on with Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, a very special place that values freedom and democracy while being put under heavy pressure from Beijing with very little international and diplomatic support. Almost makes me feel very pity for them like a forgotten ally that felt very betrayed with little attention since the end of WWII. Such a shame. I've studied some of the history of the Republic of China (R.O.C) ever since it was first founded which later moved to Taiwan due to Communist victory over the mainland which I have no respect to the CCP throughout its history which I'm too lazy to go through. Especially when you look at how the CCP treats its pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with no respect as well as its aggressive behaviors in the South China Sea very lately. With these development going on, I'm worried that Taiwan's future might someday be in great danger if there's not enough effort and the support Taiwan needs. If only the R.O.C won against the Communist in the Chinese Civil War, this world would have been a totally different place and North Korea might not even exist. Thought I'd like to share this short little story with you.

      But anyways, there's that and I'll be looking forward to see you make more blogs if there's time. :)