United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 23, 2016
Executive Summary: In recent years, the PRC has rapidly increased its military might. The strategic balance has become increasingly unfavorable for Taipei. Therefore, Tsai government cries for an autonomous national defense may receive considerable public support. But the government must learn its lessons. It must ensure balance as it procures arms and builds up the defense industry. It must prevent businessmen and politicians from engaging in war profiteering. If mercurial public sentiment enables the looting of the nation's coffers, those responsible will not escape punishment.
Full Text Below:
Since the new government assumed power, calls for “autonomous national defense” industries have rung out. Tsai Ing-wen visited relevant the industries. She emphasized the development of northern, central, and southern Taiwan information, aerospace, shipbuilding industries, as well as the domestic manufacture of submarines and advanced trainer aircraft. But during a recent US Taiwan Defense Industry Conference, Washington poured cold water on the prospect of autonomous national defense. Pentagon senior adviser David Helvey openly questioned domestic Taiwan submarine and trainer aircraft manufacturing. David An, a former State Department official and researcher at the Global Taiwan Institute, a pro-green Washington think tank, warned that for Taiwan, domestically manufactured submarines are an unrealistic proposition.
Over 30 years ago, the United States severed diplomatic relations and ended arms sales to the ROC. President Chiang Ching-kuo called for the domestic manufacture of second-generation military hardware. During Hau Pei-tsun's eight years as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the government spent heavily on R&D for jet fighters, warships, tanks, missiles, and other weapons. By the 1999s, military strength had increased dramatically. But since then, the government has been slow to update equipment. Warships, jet fighters, and other weapons have all been outsourced.
The “no expense spared” approach adopted back then no longer sustainable. The main reason is that while we may seek autonomy, we lack sustainable industrial management. We may be bent on replacing old weapons, but cannot sustain the manufacture of of new weapons. Following the Tiananmen Incident, the United States, France, and other nations relaxed restrictions on the sale of arms to Taiwan, including militarily advanced F-16s, Mirage 2000s, and other fighters. But this unexpectedly undermined production of the Indigenous Defense Fighter. Worse still, the purchase of new equipment, all at one time, placed an enormous strain on the budget. It also posed the problem of simultaneous replacement of aging equipment.
When considering defense industry autonomy, one point must be made clear. Autonomous national defense is not synonymous with having a domestic defense industry. So-called autonomy in domestic arms manufacturing is a matter of degree. On the weapons market, “100% domestic content” is almost non-existent. Even US weapons accessories are not necessarily locally made. In other words, it is meaningless to regard "autonomy" as some sort of Holy Grail. What is important is obtaining the most urgently needed weapons and equipment for national defense. One must also consider whether investments in certain weapons and equipment can promote national industrial development.
Consider the two major would be “autonomous” items. The United States has not produced diesel-powered submarines for years. It has no inventory available for purchase. European countries fear pressure from Beijing. They are even less likely to sell arms to Taiwan. Under the circumstances, our military has no choice but to take the Dutch Sternon Class hull, and outfit it with US weapons systems. Even assuming such a “domestically manufactured” submarine works, it will be a poor value. But submarines can be replaced by other weapons systems. One may have to bite the bullet. But what else can one do?
Consider advanced trainer aircraft. It is possible to purchase products containing top-secret technology. Therefore one must consider cost. One must consider the issue of industrial production. One of the most obvious problems is the economies of scale. Domestically manufactured jet fighters and other advanced weapons, are subject to export controls. Domestic demand is limited. Low production volumes combined with high research and development costs, mean prices will remain high. Therefore, one must carefully consider whether R&D for only 66 new aircraft is worth the outlay.
Also, modern weapons cost more and more. Service lives are longer and longer. Fighters and warships are frequently used for over 30 years. Spare parts must remain available for the life of the product. But the fewer units produced, the more parts are likely to be out of stock, and the more a product is likely to be orphaned in the middle of its service life, seriously impacting combat efficiency and operational safety.
To industrialize national defense, one must reject the shibboleth of autonomy. One must integrate oneself fully into the global industrial chain. One must achieve sufficient economic scale to ensure a sustainable arms industry. Only a sustainable industry can advance upstream, and step by step increase its international presence. Only a small number of absolutely essential items should be “cost is no object” and require "storming the hills" regardless of cost.
In recent years, the PRC has rapidly increased its military might. The strategic balance has become increasingly unfavorable for Taipei. Therefore, Tsai government cries for an autonomous national defense may receive considerable public support. But the government must learn its lessons. It must ensure balance as it procures arms and builds up the defense industry. It must prevent businessmen and politicians from engaging in war profiteering. If mercurial public sentiment enables the looting of the nation's coffers, those responsible will not escape punishment.
新政府上台後，「自主國防產業」的口號震天；蔡英文並走訪相關廠商，強調要在北中南基地發展資訊、航太、造船產業，要自製潛艦及高級教練機。但美方最近卻在美台國防工業會議對這股「自主國防熱」大潑冷水，五角大廈資深顧問海大衛（David Helvey），公開質疑自製潛艦與教練機政策；華府親綠智庫「全球台灣研究所」研究員，國務院出身的安大維（David An）最近也警告，「完全自製潛艦」對台灣是不切實際的誘惑。