- - Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Taiwanese navy this week conducted an anti-submarine warfare drill as part of a recent effort to improve the island’s defenses against a Chinese underwater attack.

Conducted Tuesday about 10 miles off Taiwan’s southwestern coast, the drill involved surface vessels and helicopters in simulated hunt-and-kill operations against submarines.

China’s massive military buildup over the past two decades has prompted Taiwan to enhance its defenses — with significant help from the U.S. Washington provides key weapons systems that are mandated by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the U.S. to provide arms that allow Taipei to maintain parity with Beijing’s communist government.

However, the United States has been hampered by obstacles that have prevented Taiwan from keeping its defense capabilities on par with China’s offensive capabilities.

For example, the George W. Bush administration in 2001 approved the sale of eight diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan, even though the U.S. long ago ceased making non-nuclear-powered subs. Prolonged talks about cost and congressional concerns about technology transfer resulted in inaction that continues to this day.

China’s navy, with nearly 60 submarines, including a half-dozen nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile subs, holds a decisive advantage over Taiwan. Taipei currently deploys only two old Dutch-made submarines.

Analysts say Taiwan must strengthen its anti-sub capabilities to counterbalance China’s forces.

To help meet Taiwan’s anti-submarine needs, the U.S. in 2007 agreed to sell P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft to the Taiwanese military. The first four were recently delivered.

The Taiwanese military recently upgraded two submarines by arming them with up to 32 UGM-84A Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The Harpoon, made by McDonnell Douglas [now Boeing], is an advanced, all-weather, sea-skimming, radar-guided missile. Its “over-the-horizon” system can reach targets about 70 nautical miles away, placing many of China’s surface ships within its range.

CHINA NOTES REAGAN CARRIER

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan will be forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, in 2015, replacing the USS George Washington, which will undergo nuclear refueling and upgrades in Virginia.

The symbolism behind the change was not lost on Beijing, since many in Asia view Reagan as the U.S.’ most forceful anti-communist president.

“The American troops stationed in Japan will receive even more powerful nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in order to enhance the rapid-response capability of the Japan-U.S. joint military alliance” was how the Beijing’s official newspaper Global Times responded to the announcement of the Reagan’s deployment.

In 2008, the George Washington became the first U.S. nuclear-powered carrier to be based overseas. At the time, the U.S. wished to play a neutral role in the region by dispatching a carrier named after a president acceptable to China, North Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

Policymakers rejected the USS Harry S. Truman for deployment to Japan because of Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb in World War II. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was ruled out for 7th Fleet headquarters in Japan, not far from the Taiwan Strait, because it might have offended China.

Times have changed. The U.S. naval base at Yokosuka is one of the most significant forward bases in America’s strategic shift to Asia, and the Navy is expected to deploy six aircraft carriers for operations in the Asia Pacific region under the policy.

China has become more aggressive and cantankerous in the region, and is at odds with Japan over ownership of the Senkaku islands.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @Yu_miles.

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