By David Axe, The National Interest
The administration of U.S. president Donald Trump is proposing to sell to Taiwan more than 100 M-1A2 main battle tanks.
The sale, if Congress approves it, could significantly improve Taiwan’s armored force.
“The Pentagon and State Department have informally notified Congress of a potential $2-billion deal with Taiwan that includes the first-time sale of one of the U.S. Army’s top tanks,” Reuters reported, citing an unnamed U.S. official.
The deal would contain the M-1A2 Abrams tank, and a resupply of anti-air and anti-armor weapons, the official familiar with the matter said. The notification of the government-to-government sale doesn’t include F-16 fighters, which are still under State Department and Pentagon review, the person said. ...
The package includes 108 of the tanks built by General Dynamics Corp., as well as 1,240 TOW wire-guided anti-tank missiles, 409 shoulder-launched “fire-and-forget” Javelin anti-tank missiles and 250 Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles made famous by Afghan “freedom fighters” in their war against the Soviet Union.
China objected to the possible deal. “We are severely concerned about the U.S.’s move,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing on June 6, 2019. “We are firmly against U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. We urge the U.S. to see the high sensitivity and severe harm of arms sales to Taiwan.”
Taiwan has not bought new tanks in several decades. In 2001, the administration of U.S. president George W. Bush rejected an earlier request by Taipei to buy M-1s.
At present, the older M-60A3 is Taiwan’s most important tank. After initially failing to acquire the M-1, Taiwan launched an ambitious effort to enhance up to 400 M-60s. In 2017, the army transferred two M-60s to Taiwanese research institutes for evaluation. Upgrades were scheduled to begin in 2019 and take roughly a year to complete.
The updates reportedly include a new fire-control system, turret drive, sights and nuclear defenses, an automatic loader and a 120-millimeter gun to replace the present 105-millimeter weapon. Taiwan is also considering giving its M-60s an Active Protection System, which fires tiny projectiles to intercept incoming rockets and anti-tank missiles.
Upgrades to 400 old M-60s and a potential purchase of 100 new M-1s believe Taiwan’s numerical disadvantage when it comes to tanks. China possesses 6,900 tanks, including nearly 4,000 fully modern ones.
Of course, China would struggle to deploy large numbers of tanks in Taiwan. Even after pummeling Taiwan with rockets, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army would have to ship troops and equipment across the Taiwan Strait in an effort to take and hold the islands. Only then would Taiwan’s own tanks even factor into the fighting.
An invasion of Taiwan would be a daunting challenge for China. Beijing would have to win quickly or risk political and military retaliation by the United States that could doom the attack. Taipei’s tanks merely must slow the Chinese assault rather than totally reverse it.
“Yes, the Taiwanese army projects that it can only hold off its enemy for two weeks after the landing,” Tanner Greer noted in Foreign Policy, “but the PLA also believes that if it cannot defeat the Taiwanese forces in under two weeks, it will lose the war!”
“The disparity between the military budgets on both sides of the strait is large, and growing—but the Taiwanese do not need parity to deter Chinese aggression. All they need is the freedom to purchase the sort of arms that make invasion unthinkable. If that political battle can be resolved in the halls of Washington, the party will not have the power to threaten battle on the shores of Taiwan.”
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