NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Amid growing tensions between China and Taiwan over Beijing’s decision to sharply increase aircraft flights along the center of the Taiwan Strait, the Pentagon is preparing to transfer Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Taiwanese military in the coming months.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry announced Jan. 22 that it will take delivery later this year of some 250 FIM-92 Stinger missiles. The shoulder-fired Stinger is considered a highly effective surface-to-air missile that uses an infrared homing system to track and hit aircraft.
The missiles are part of a $453 million arms package that was approved in 2015. Other items include a torpedo life-extension package and Standard Missile-2 spare modules.
The Pentagon announced Jan. 25 that it awarded a $92 million contact to Raytheon, the Stinger manufacturer, as part of military sales to Taiwan and Poland. The announcement did not mention the funds were for Stinger missiles.
The Stingers, however, are being delivered as China and Taiwan are embroiled in a dispute over the recent decision by Beijing to begin regular commercial and military flights along the center of the Taiwan Strait, using a commercial aviation route known as M503.
“Unilaterally initiating use of controversial aviation routes is a provocation that undermines regional security,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a statement Jan. 7.
Taiwan diplomats said the Chinese move was designed to force Taipei’s military to expend valuable defense resources in responding to the flights by scrambling interceptor jets each time a commercial jet passes through the air route.
Officially, the reason Taiwan is opposing the Chinese flights — as many as 20 a day — is that the airspace already is crowded and additional Chinese jets will jeopardize air safety. The real reason, according to Taiwan diplomats, is China’s strategy of coercion and “sharp power” — measures between soft diplomacy and hard military action — to pressure on the rival island-state Beijing regards as its territory.
Triggering numerous Taiwan jet interceptor flights to the midline of the 100-mile strait is designed to stress Taiwan’s aging air force, the diplomats said.
Taipei has expressed interest in buying new U.S. F-16 jets or the newer F-35 jet to bolster its forces. The Pentagon said in its latest annual report that the balance of forces across the strait has shifted in China’s favor amid deployments of missile and air forces on the mainland near Taiwan.
Taiwan has been a de factor independent nation since the remnant of Nationalist forces fled to the island from the mainland in the late 1940s at the end the civil war against the communists that consolidated power in Beijing in 1949.
State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said the department is concerned that Beijing has modified the use of civil aviation flight routes in the strait without consulting Taiwan.
“We oppose unilateral actions by either side to alter the status quo across the strait,” he said. ” … Issues related to civil aviation and safety in the Taiwan Strait should be decided through dialogue between both sides.”
In announcing the arms transfer, a Taiwanese defense official told reporters in Taipei that the missiles will be used by the navy and marine corps infantry battalions.
But it is the naval use of the Stingers that is likely to trigger reaction from Beijing. According to the Taiwan defense official, the Stingers will be deployed on the navy’s Guang Hua VI-class fast attack boats and Tuo Jiang-class corvettes. Deployment of the missiles on those craft would signal Beijing that Taiwan has the capability to defend its airspace along the M503 flight path with Stinger missiles.
The flight route is used mainly by commercial aircraft from China. However, China has used the route for warplanes, thus increasing the risk that a flight along the route could be misinterpreted as a threat.
HOUSE MEMO SAID TO ID FBI LEAKERS
An intelligence source tells Inside the Ring that the classified memorandum produced by the Republican members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will disclose details of how high-level FBI officials worked with news reporters to spread details of the bureau’s Russia collusion investigation.
The House panel voted earlier this week to release the four-page memo that will outline what its authors say are abuses by the U.S. government related to the use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The FISA Court is the government authority for the use of electronic spying on spies and criminals.
The committee is waiting to hear of any objections to releasing the document by the White House. The memo could be made public as early as Thursday.
The classified report is expected to disclose that the FBI and Justice Department misused a questionable dossier produced by the research firm Fusion GPS in seeking FISA authority for electronic surveillance of the Trump presidential transition team. According to the source, committee investigators have been tracking the activities of three unidentified journalists who were paid by Fusion GPS.
Investigators are said to uncovered information indicating that the journalists were provided sensitive briefings on the Russia investigation in meetings with senior FBI officials.
President Trump was overhead after the state of the union speech saying he “100 percent” will agree to release the memo.
The FBI on Wednesday issued a statement objecting to making the report public.
“The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI,” the FBI said. “We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.”
On the committee memo, the bureau stated, “The FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe abruptly resigned Monday amid reports he was the target of a critical FBI inspector general report on the bureau’s handling of the Hillary Clinton private email investigation.
CHINA REACTS TO DRAFT NUKE REVIEW
China’s official media reacted harshly to the recent disclosure of a draft of the Pentagon’s forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review. The strategic weapons review calls for increasing American nuclear forces and building new, smaller warheads that, when delivered on precision-guided missiles, can have impacts similar to larger strategic warheads.
“We must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression,” President Trump said Tuesday in his State of the Union speech.
Mr. Trump contrasted his harder line view of nuclear arms with the anti-nuclear policies of former President Obama, saying, “Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.”
The final version of the nuclear review will be released in the next two weeks, according to defense officials. The leaked draft was published in the Huffington Post Jan. 11, prompting state Chinese media to denounce the forthcoming shift in American strategic policies.
People’s Liberation Army-affiliated experts told China’s state-owned media that the Trump nuclear review would lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons and thus lead to a nuclear arms race and increased global instability.
Officials with the Chinese government and military did not comment on the draft NPR. But both the official Communist Party newspaper, People’s Daily, and the official military newspaper, PLA Daily, carried reports on the draft.
One theme of the official commentary was that China should sharply increase its own nuclear weapons buildup in response.
Typical of the reaction was retired Rear Adm. Yin Zhu, who told state television the U.S. development of low-yield nuclear arms would “blur the line” between conventional and nuclear warfare. Use of small nuclear arms, Adm. Yin asserted, could provoke a strategic nuclear counterstrike and thus poses “a major threat to global peace and stability.”
The party-affiliated Global Times quoted former PLA Rocket Forces official Yang Chengjun as urging China to speed up development of “new technologies and resources for nuclear weapons systems.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.