US govt pushing large arms sale to Taiwan, say officials

The most sensitive weapon system of the proposed US arms sale to Taiwan is an air-to-ground missile, the Boeing AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER.
The most sensitive weapon system of the proposed US arms sale to Taiwan is an air-to-ground missile, the Boeing AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER. PHOTO: BOEING

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration is pushing the sale of seven large packages of weapons to Taiwan, including long-range missiles that would allow Taiwanese jets to hit distant Chinese targets in the event of a conflict, say officials familiar with the proposals.

If approved by Congress, the packages, valued in the billions of dollars, would be one of the largest weapon transfers in recent years to Taiwan. The administration plans to informally notify lawmakers of the sale within weeks.

By law, the United States government is required to provide weapons of a defensive nature to Taiwan, a self-governing, democratic island.

China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, has escalated its military activity near the island after Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election in January by beating a candidate viewed as friendlier to Beijing.

Some administration officials see bolstering Taiwan as an important part of creating a broader military counterweight to China in Asia.

Taiwan has strong bipartisan support in Congress, so administration officials expect lawmakers to approve the arms sales.

Relations between the US and China have plummeted to their lowest point in decades, as the two nations openly challenge each other on a wide range of issues, including trade, technology and military dominance of Asia.

The most sensitive weapon system of the proposed packages to Taiwan is an air-to-ground missile, the Boeing AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER.

Because of its range, it can be fired by jets flying beyond the reach of China's air defence system.

The missiles could hit targets on the Chinese mainland or at sea, including warships trying to cross the Taiwan Strait.

The proposed sale of the missile, which is likely to cause concern among Chinese military officials, has not been previously reported.


The missiles can be used with F-16 fighter jets that the US has sold to Taiwan. The Trump administration announced last year that it was selling 66 such jets at US$8 billion (S$10.86 billion), one of the single largest arms packages to the island in many years.

Officials said the current proposed sale includes surveillance drones that are an unarmed version of the Reaper model made by General Atomics; a truck-based rocket artillery system made by Lockheed Martin; land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Boeing; and sea mines. Reuters reported aspects of the packages on Wednesday.

"The US is increasingly concerned that deterrence is weakening as Chinese military capabilities grow," said Ms Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"The items in this package will help increase Taiwan's ability to prevent a Chinese invasion - essentially, to hold out longer."

But she added: "Weapons procurements are only one part of that equation. The US is also urging Taiwan to rebuild its reserves and conduct more real-world training."

Professor Evan Medeiros from Georgetown University, a former senior Asia director at the National Security Council, said China might impose sanctions on a few companies involved in the proposed sale, "but strategically they are focused on preserving stability in US-China relations right now".

Prof Medeiros and other US officials have pressed Taiwanese officials over the past decade to buy weapons that would enhance deterrence and increase the island military's abilities to hold off Chinese forces in a meaningful way.


Prof Medeiros said that with the current proposed sale, "Taiwan is finally buying what it really needs to implement its asymmetric defence strategy".

"It's a bit tardy to this garden party, but Taiwan's leaders are finally committing serious resources."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2020, with the headline 'US govt pushing large arms sale to Taiwan, say officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe