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Oct. 30, 2014
Notes from the Pentagon

‘No one has the guts to sell submarines to Taiwan’ as China pressures Pentagon
The Obama administration is backing away from a 2001 commitment to help Taiwan acquire submarines to defend the island from Chinese attack.

The Pentagon, in particular, is said to oppose the 13-year-old plan to help Taipei buy or build eight diesel electric subs over concerns of disrupting its high-priority military exchange program with China.

The Chinese military cut ties to the Pentagon several times in recent years to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and agreed to resume exchanges only if the administration adopted China’s concept of “new-type” relations that, for Beijing, includes gradually ending arms sales to Taiwan.

The administration, however, is bound by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to provide defensive arms to Taiwan to prevent a Chinese takeover.

The U.S. military has been pressing Taiwan in recent months to do more to increase its defenses in the face of a large-scale buildup of warships, submarines, missiles and amphibious forces by China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The PLA has deployed more than 1,200 missiles within range of Taiwan that could devastate the island in a surprise attack.

One U.S. official said the administration has agreed to help Taiwan develop small, electric-powered, coastal submarines as a halfway measure, instead of larger submarines.

That option is expected to be the subject of an upcoming report by the administration-aligned think tank Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Critics of the small-sub plan say the Taiwanese need larger submarines, as well as mini-subs, as a key asymmetric warfare weapon to deter the Chinese — something small submarines alone are unlikely to do.

“Like other navies in the region, Taiwan appears poised to contribute toward U.S. interests in regional security,” said Mark Stokes, a former Pentagon official who worked on China affairs. “Taiwan’s acquisition of new diesel electric submarines would enhance regional stability by providing a clear deterrent to potential [Chinese] force and interruption of sea lines of communication in the East China Sea, South China Sea and elsewhere in the region.”

Mr. Stokes said a submarine fleet offers a credible and effective deterrent to the threat posed by the PLA.

“Active U.S. support for Taiwan’s acquisition of diesel electric submarines, including midget submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles, would demonstrate credibility of American policy commitments,” said Mr. Stokes, now with the Project 2049 Institute.

Added Rick Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center: “Despite its 30-year quest, no one has the guts to sell submarines to Taiwan.”

The George W. Bush administration tried but failed to get the Taiwanese sub program going, and the Obama administration appears to have abandoned the effort, Mr. Fisher said.

“Now Taiwan has taken the momentous step of starting their own program, and it would be a crushing blow if the U.S. did not support it,” he said.

China is closing in on having the military capability to invade Taiwan, and subs would hold off an invasion threat, Mr. Fisher said, noting that U.S. support for submarine development will be crucial.

U.S. officials informed Taiwan last summer that it must do more to bolster its defenses, as spending cuts have diminished the ability of U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups to reach the island during a conflict with China.

Apparently frustrated, Taiwan last week announced that it would begin developing its own subs after more than a decade of delays in getting U.S. assistance.

The Bush ministration announced in 2001 that it would help Taiwan with the purchase or production of eight diesel electric submarines.

But the subs were never built, and China pressured potential foreign suppliers from providing them.

A formal congressional notification of the first phase of the submarine-building program, a $360 million program over two years, remains bottled up in the State Department over Pentagon fears that China’s military will cut relations. Any submarine program with Taiwan has been scaled back to avoid upsetting the Chinese.

“Our determination to build indigenous submarines is very firm. The navy is very actively pushing this matter,” said Maj. Gen. David Lo, a spokesman for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense.

“The Republic of China [Taiwan] will not engage in an arms race with China. We hope to acquire submarines to strengthen our self-defense,” he said, according to Reuters.

Asked about the submarine controversy, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool said: “The U.S. has received Taiwan’s requests for diesel submarines. These requests remain under interagency review.”

News reports from Taiwan last month said four submarines weighing about 1,500 tons will be built at a cost of $833 million each. However, they will not be equipped with air-independent propulsion — a key stealth technology — because of a lack of expertise.

The latest issue of the al Qaeda magazine Resurgence calls on terrorists to attack U.S. Navy ships and bases as part of efforts to break what the group calls the U.S. stranglehold on the Muslim world.

“Attacks on the U.S. Navy are not in the realm of the impossible either,” the magazine stated in an article headlined “On Targeting the Achilles Heel of Western Economies.”

“Some targets, like Port Jebel Ali in Dubai, are too obvious to escape notice,” the article said. “While others, such as Camp Thunder Clove in Diego Garcia; Naval Support Activity in Juffair, Bahrain; and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti may require a more complex effort to target.”

The report said an al Qaeda attack Sept. 6 in Karachi, Pakistan, involved a group of Islamist Pakistani naval officers working covertly with al Qaeda in an attempt to hijack a Pakistani navy frigate. The plan was to use the warship to attack U.S. Navy ships in the Indian Ocean.

The Pentagon’s politically correct policy of pushing women into front-line combat positions suffered a setback this week: Three female Marine officers washed out of the Infantry Officer Course.

The Marines, two captains and a second lieutenant, bring to 27 the number of women who have not been able to complete the officer training. They were asked to leave after they could not keep up during two hikes, according to reports in The Christian Science Monitor and Marine Corps Times.

A Marine Corps spokesman had no immediate comment.

The women were dropped from the 13-week course at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia, two weeks into the training, but they advanced further than all other women since the physically demanding course was opened to female officers in late 2012. They passed the grueling combat endurance test but were asked to leave after failing to maintain the pace during a long hike carrying a backpack weighing more than 100 pounds.

Only one other female Marine officer has completed the initial endurance portion of the course. That officer was forced to drop out because of a stress fracture in her foot.

Aaron MacLean, a former Marine infantry officer, said pressure is mounting from radical feminist advocacy groups to lower Marine standards so women can pass the grueling training tests.

Lowering standards for women, however, would undermine the value of their achievements and diminish the overall fighting capacity of the Marines, he said.

“Despite the debate on this issue, the maintenance of high standards should be something every Marine should support, as should their friends in the Department of Defense’s leadership and in Congress, not to mention the public,” Mr. MacLean, an editor at The Washington Free Beacon, said in a blog post.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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