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Taiwan to point US-supplied HIMARS at China

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Taiwanese troops are slated to receive specialized training to operate M1 tanks and High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) training in the US, marking a crucial step in Taiwan’s defense strategy amid increasing geopolitical tensions.

Late last month, Taiwan News reported that Taiwan will send 114 personnel to the US for M1A2T Abrams tanks and High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) training. The report mentions that the self-governing island will receive deliveries of 11 HIMARS systems and thirty-eight M1A2T Abrams tanks in 2024.

It notes that the Taiwanese military intends to send dispatch personnel to the United States for training beginning in January to meet the equipment operation and maintenance personnel requirements. It also notes that upon completing their training, they will be responsible for training operations and function as instructors for the two weapon systems.

The report quotes Taiwan’s 2024 Ministry of National Defense Budget in saying that 108 M1A2T tanks, which were agreed to be sold to Taiwan by the United States in 2019, are scheduled to be delivered beginning the following year. It notes that the initial shipment of 38 M1A2T tanks is anticipated to arrive the next year, followed by an additional 42 in 2025 and 28 in 2026.

Further, Taiwan News mentions that the US granted Taiwan authorization to procure 11 HIMARS systems in 2020, and the latter later agreed to acquire an additional 18 units.

The source says shipments of the initial run of eleven HIMARS systems are anticipated to commence the following year and continue through 2025, with the delivery of the remaining eighteen HIMARS systems slated to occur in 2026.

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Taiwan News notes that the defense budget for the following year calls for the deployment of 84 officers and enlisted personnel to the US in January for M1A2T tank training. It says the finalization of the training is anticipated by the end of the following year.

Moreover, the report says 30 officers and enlisted personnel will be dispatched to the US for HIMARS training beginning in February of the following year, with their training anticipated to be finished by October.

It notes that the soldiers will be entrusted with the role of instructors for these two weapon systems upon their return to the country, tasked with the development of guidelines and lesson plans, in addition to the execution of educational and training endeavors.

Those M1 tanks are set to play a critical role in a Taiwanese counteroffensive against a Chinese invasion. In an October 2020 article for the Global Taiwan Institute, Charlemagne McHaffie says that tanks will be the lynchpin of Taiwan’s counterattack to defeat Chinese attempts to break out of established beachheads.

While McHaffie points out that M1 tanks have been criticized as vanity purchases with little warfighting value, tanks are still critical elements for tactical and operational-level counterattacks. He points out that asymmetric weapons such as anti-tank missiles are suitable for the defense but cannot replace tanks in the offense. 

As for HIMARS, Kama Hsu and Jaime Ocon noted in a video last month for Taiwan Plus that HIMARS provides Taiwan with valuable shoot-and-scoot capability, addressing a massive vulnerability with traditional towed guns that make the majority of Taiwan’s artillery firepower.

Towed artillery guns are neither protected nor mobile, and while they can be entrenched, they are vulnerable to aerial precision strikes. HIMARS gives Taiwan the ability to bombard Chinese beachheads while remaining safe from counterbattery fire by rapidly shifting locations. 

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Notably, that progress in M1 tank and HIMARS artillery acquisition occurs amidst a massive backlog of US arms deliveries to Taiwan, with the former’s defense industry strained by having to support Ukraine and Israel while maintaining domestic production and grappling with internal issues. 

In a Cato Institute article last month, Eric Gomez and Benjamin Giltner mention that the US has a USD 19.17 arms sales backlog to Taiwan, covering asymmetric weapons, munitions, and traditional weapons such as tanks.

Gomez and Giltner note that asymmetric weapons such as short-range air and anti-ship missiles make up US$4.2 billion or 22% of the backlog, munitions such as 155 mm artillery rounds making up $2.8 billion or 15% of the backlog, and traditional weapons such as M1 tanks making up $12.1 billion or 50% of the backlog.

They note that traditional weapons, which are vulnerable to destruction in the initial stages of a possible Chinese invasion, dominate the US backlog to Taiwan. 

The US also faces issues providing Taiwan’s weapons with maintenance and support. In a separate November article for the Cato Institute, Gomez and Giltner note that the US gave Taiwan more maintenance support for their traditional weapons, such as F-16s, than their asymmetric capabilities.

They say that traditional weapons are used more often during peacetime and, therefore, have higher maintenance costs than most asymmetric weapons. However, they also point out that while traditional platforms perform a more comprehensive range of missions, this comes with more wear and tear and higher maintenance costs.

Given Taiwan’s limited defense budget, they say such acquisitions come with a significant opportunity cost in money not available to build and maintain asymmetric systems, which tend to have lower upfront and lifetime costs.

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Gomez and Giltner point out that the amount of maintenance support the US gives to Taiwan shows that the latter cannot sustain its high-end capabilities independently. They point out this risk as resupplying Taiwan may not be an option in the event of a Chinese invasion and blockade.

Noting that risk, they say that the US should boost Taiwan’s ability to maintain its US-made weapons with domestically-made parts and that the latter should stockpile spare parts with the same urgency as munitions. In addition to those issues, the US defense industry faces internal problems that hamper its ability to provide for Taiwan. 

In a January 2023 article for the Cato Institute think tank, Jordan Cohen and Jennifer Kavanagh point out that the US defense industrial base’s limitations in meeting domestic and international orders, inefficiencies in the US sales-to-delivery process, and complicated export controls contribute to the vast US arms delivery backlog for Taiwan.

Cohen and Kavanagh mention that arming Taiwan will require significant investments in the US defense industrial base, changes to the arms transfer process, and a clear prioritization of Taiwan over smaller US customers with questionable human rights records. 

Source: Asia Times

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