- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

The sale of warships, submarines and aircraft to Taiwan will bolster the island´s defenses but still leaves it vulnerable to short-term intimidation or attack by Chinese aircraft and missiles, defense specialists said yesterday.

A senior White House official said the eight diesel submarines approved for sale to Taiwan by President Bush will be equipped with Harpoon anti-ship missiles, making them effective weapons against China´s warships should they try to blockade the island as part of a forcible reunification bid.

Four 1970s-era Kidd-class destroyers also will provide a major upgrade in Taipei´s naval power.

"Our assessment is Taiwan has got an immediate need to upgrade its air-defense capabilities," said the official. "The Kidds will represent a significant upgrading of their capability."

The official said sales of more advanced warships equipped with Aegis battle-management radar were deferred because Taiwan needed immediate help.

Kidd-class ships are equipped with two Mark 26 guided-issile launchers that can fire anti-aircraft and anti-submarine missiles, and eight firing tubes for Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

The ships also have advanced fire-control and tracking radars that in some cases are as good as the equipment on Aegis ships, although without the phased-array radar on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

The arms have been offered for sale as part of the annual package presented to Taiwanese government officials yesterday at meeting at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Southwest, D.C.

The submarines are a high priority item for the Taiwanese military and were approved this year because of China´s buildup of submarines, including the eventual deployment of four Russian-made Kilo-class submarines, in addition to more than 60 other submarines.

Other defense analysts said the Kidd destroyers, which could be delivered by 2003, fall short of helping Taiwan to deal with China´s growing short-range missile force being deployed opposite the island.

"The decision to sell submarines is brave but long overdue," said Rick Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military. "The combination of a delay in providing Aegis ships and the reluctance to sell so-called offensive weapons that Taiwan truly requires for its defensive needs is very troubling."

The Bush administration rejected sales this year of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which are satellite-guided bombs, and of High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles. Those arms are seen as offensive.

Larry Wortzel, a former U.S. military attache in China, said the sale of up to 12 P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft also will help Taiwan counter a Chinese blockade, which he said is "one of the major threats" facing Taipei.

"I think it´s the proper package to meet Taiwan´s near-term defense needs," said Mr. Wortzel, now at the Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Wortzel said dealing with the Chinese missile threat is going to be harder.

"The missile threat cannot be met in the near-term anyway," he said, noting that the administration has suggested the Aegis ships might be sold later.

"That says to me they are going to start construction" on new Aegis-equipped warships.

Administration officials have said the Pentagon is considering building four new Aegis missile destroyers for the U.S. Navy that could be transferred to Taiwan if China continues its buildup of short-range missiles.

Mr. Fisher said the anti-submarine weapons and counterblockade arms are a good first step. But Taiwan really needs Aegis for a future "truly effective missile defense" and the other arms to be able to knock out China´s short-range missiles and air-defense missiles on the mainland.

"Clinton did not sell Taiwan one system of strategic significance in terms of the balance on the strait," Mr. Fisher said. "The submarine sale would be a strategically significant system, but it is not nearly enough."

A congressional Asia specialist said the arms package is good but "should have been much betterOn the most sensitive items, they blinked."

"There is nothing in the arms package that can help Taiwan defend against missiles," the aide said. "What is needed is JDAMs and HARMs so Taiwanese pilots can take out" Chinese missiles.

Al Santoli, a national security adviser to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said the arms will improve Taiwan´s defense capabilities but leave the island vulnerable to missile attack for some years.

"What do we do to help the Taiwanese protect against and deter an attack on Taiwan from right now to the next five years during a totally unpredictable situation in China?" Mr. Santoli said.

He also pointed out that limited arms sales to Taiwan have not tempered China´s arms purchases from abroad.

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