Tuesday, August 7, 2007

AEGIS to Taiwan, not a stretch

The top story at TaiwanSecurity.org a few days ago was about possible Taiwanese plans to buy AEGIS cruisers of the U.S.:

Taiwan wants to buy at least six Aegis-equipped destroyers from the United States at a cost of more than $4.6 billion, a newspaper said on Monday, a plan sure to anger China which claims the island as its own.

The United Daily News quoted unnamed sources as saying Deputy Defense Minister Ko Cheng-heng and Chief of the General Staff Chen Yung-kang would travel to the United States this month to try to secure the deal.

The defense ministry declined to comment.

The navy could eventually buy an additional two destroyers after the initial six depending on the circumstances, the newspaper said.

The Aegis air defense radar and weapons system is capable of tracking and attacking dozens of missiles, aircraft and ships all at once.

The United States, the island's main arms supplier, in 2001 put off a request from Taipei to buy four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with the Aegis system, but kept the option open should China pose a sufficient threat.

Sudden announcements of Taiwanese intent to purchase major arms packages from the U.S. is certainly not unheard of. The Armchair Admiral over at Information Dissemination is correct to greet this news with a healthy dose of skepticism. He is also right to point out that the Navy doesn't exactly have surplus Arleigh-Burkes to sell the Taiwanese.

Normally, I would agree with the assessment that this AEGIS announcement is just another example of Taiwanese politicians playing politics with their defense budget. Not on this though. I think the Taiwanese want to get their hands on two of the four U.S. Block I AEGIS cruisers stationed in the Pacific. Armchair Admiral dismisses them because they have been reconfigured for ballistic missile defense, but I would argue that is the core reason for Taiwanese interest in the ships.

What is my basis for defying conventional wisdom? A conversation that emerged during a Presidential Management Fellows job interview I had at the Missile Defense Agency. Here is a rough dramatization of the conversation:

Robot Economist: So what would you think is the major drawback of working for the MDA? The political sensitivity of the work?

Female MDA Official With Too Much Eye Shadow: That is problematic to a certain extent, but right now, I would say being BRAC'd to Huntsville. We've been having trouble keeping young people who want to stay in the DC area.

RE: Are you going to staff any embassies or international field offices? Possibly some in Asia?

FMDAWTMES: Yes, we definitely will. The only one we have planned for the Pacific will be in Taipei.

RE: Wait, you mean Tokyo, right? The Japanese should get one since they are going to be such a big partner.

FMDAWTMES: No, I meant Taipei, in Taiwan.

After stifling a double-take, I let the issue drop -- but as you can imagine, those words have been stuck in the back of my mind for months. I can't find any specific evidence to support this odd conversation, but this March 2006 briefing by MDA chief Lt. General Trey Obering does indicate that Taiwan is on their radar (pardon the pun).

This is one thing that I am definitely going to keep my eye one.


Galrahn said...

Time to take a second look at this, I think I may of dismissed this as rhetoric too quickly.

Robot Economist said...

Galrahn -

You have a better view of the Navy's situation, so any addition investigation would be much appreciated.