Taiwan currently leads the world in terms of its procurement of U.S.-made arms, with a total of US$10.7 billion in sales already approved this year by the U.S. Department of State under its Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The US$8 billion F-16V acquisition accounts for the bulk of this amount, while an agreement for 108 M1 Abrams battle tanks accounts for another US$2 billion.
There has also been a change in the way the deals are being approved. In recent decades, U.S. administrations had waited until accumulated requests from Taiwan could be bundled into a single package. The rationale was to reduce the number of times the U.S. government would have to respond to Chinese objections. But in what appears to be a sign of strengthening U.S.-Taiwan relations, individual sales are now being approved on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re seeing a routinization of weapons procurement,” said a U.S. official familiar with Taiwan’s defense sector who requested anonymity. “It’s a normalization of the process. It’s treating Taiwan the same as we do anyone else.”
General Dynamics’ M1A1 Abrams is considered the world’s most advanced battle tank. Taiwan is purchasing it to replace its current fleet of M60A3 Patton and CM-11 Brave Tiger tanks, which have been in service for more than two decades.
Production of the M1A1 will be performed at several locations throughout the U.S. Taiwan expects to execute the contract in November, although the first batch of tanks won’t be delivered until 2022.
Taiwan is negotiating a separate deal with Lockheed Martin, maker of the F-16, to procure 120-millimeter cannons and shells for the new M1A1 tanks. It hopes to obtain technology transfer offsets from the U.S. defense giant, so that Taiwanese firms could produce these armaments under license in the future.
The Raytheon Company of Waltham, Massachusetts, is also involved in numerous deals with Taiwan’s defense sector. Last May it was awarded several contracts, including one for the US$355 million upgrade and refurbishment of its AGM-88B High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM), which are part of the F-16’s armaments, as well as the missile array’s control system. Raytheon also won a nearly US$50 million contract to refurbish radar systems for Taiwan’s naval vessels.
Last year, British Aerospace Systems (BAE) was contracted via the FMS program to supply 36 amphibious assault vehicles to Taiwan for around US$83.5 million. Purchase and delivery of the vehicles are expected to be completed by July 2020. Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense Yen Teh-fa told legislators in September that the ministry is requesting acquisition of BAE’s M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer to further enhance its defense capabilities.
U.S. firms are also deeply involved in Taiwan’s two highest profile weapons development programs, the T5 trainer aircraft and the indigenous submarine.