Joint Taiwan-U.S. Weapons Production Considered As China’s Invasion Window Tapers

The United States is reportedly in talks with Taiwan regarding the possibility of jointly manufacturing weapons. If the plan is to ultimately come to fruition, the strategic partnership could present the opportunity to increase U.S.-designed weapons production capacity, speed up the arms transfer process, and allow Taiwan and the United States to more robustly deter China.

Nikkei Asia, a financial news outlet based in Japan, was the first to report on the development and cited three unnamed sources purportedly familiar with the plan. One told the outlet that “initial discussions on joint U.S.-Taiwan production had begun,” while a separate source added that the deliberations will take time, likely extending into 2023. In general, it seems the two primary options being considered by the allies boil down to either the United States providing Taiwan with the weapons and technology needed to produce more arms locally or manufacturing the weapons in the United States using Taiwanese parts.

A Republic of China Army soldier sits behind artillery pieces during a recent exercise. Credit: Taiwan Ministry of Defense

The U.S. military permitting American defense contractors to support Taiwan’s defense industry is not new. For instance, Nikkei Asia pointed out that Taiwan’s Hsiung Feng II and III anti-ship missiles developed by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology are manufactured with select technologies provided by the United States, and Taiwan has received assistance from the United States on other programs as well. Adversely, a representative of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, which Nikkei Asia described as a group that includes major U.S. defense contractors, told the outlet that Taiwan has not co-produced U.S. weapons whether it be munitions or platforms.

Whichever intended plan of action Taipei and Washington decide upon through these discussions, the overarching goal of the budding agreement seems to be fostering a more robust and flexible supply chain while increasing production output. This would certainly make sense as U.S. defense supply chains have been faced with varying issues influenced by the several weapons stock drawdowns and donations that have been sent to Ukraine as military aid throughout its war with Russia. 

This has affected not only domestic weapons stocks but has the potential to also influence the United States’ capacity to export arms to foreign customers, including Taiwan. As an example, Taiwan is currently a buyer of the U.S.-developed High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and its guided M30 rockets that Ukraine has been receiving constant shipments of for months. Now, as The War Zone has reported, U.S. inventories of not only HIMARS and its rockets but Stinger man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) and Javelin anti-armor missiles, all of which Taiwan is also a customer, are under pressure.

This is projected to slow the delivery of Stingers to Taiwan in the coming years, despite Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense initially expecting to complete its delivery of the MANPADS by 2026. Taiwan’s defense ministry, however, is still expecting its HIMARS deliveries, as well as a shipment of Harpoon anti-ship missiles, by 2027 and 2028 respectively. 

A Marine fires an FIM-92A Stinger missile at an unmanned aerial target during training at San Clemente Island in 2009. Credit: Christopher O’Quin, U.S. Marine Corps

According to Nikkei Asia, though, the U.S. government has failed to complete the delivery of at least 10 unspecified approved arms sales reaching back to July 2019 that Taiwan expects to be worth over $13 billion. The Pentagon’s arduous Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process is partially responsible for this significant backlog, as well as the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic that first began affecting global supply chains in 2020

Washington has also proposed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that will include an increased $10 billion in military aid for Taiwan. The modified Taiwan defense package was drafted by Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and consists of funding that will be allocated under the Foreign Military Financing program, which provides foreign countries with the option to use grants and loans to buy U.S. military equipment.

Reed has said that the new defense package is consistent with the Taiwan Policy Act, which was advanced by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September and is aimed at bolstering diplomatic relations between Taipei and Washington. According to Defense News, if the package is voted into the NDAA by the Senate this November, $300 million of the proposed $10 billion aid would go directly to Taipei each year for onshore procurement, thereby allowing Taiwan to buy weapons systems and parts from its own military industrial base rather than that of the United States.

Taiwanese soldiers demonstrate the operation of the locally-developed Sky Bow III surface-to-air missile system during a media event at Hualien Air Force Base on August 18, 2022. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP) (Photo by SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images)

Even still, the question of the speed at which Taiwan would be able to actually procure the arms it could buy with that money remains, as evidenced by the pileup of orders it already has with the United States. In an initial attempt to address this, Defense News also noted that the NDAA did at one point include a requirement mandating U.S. defense contractors to “expedite and prioritize” the manufacturing of Taiwan’s purchased weapons over any other countries currently awaiting their own orders, but that requirement has since been dropped for legal reasons.

If Taiwan and the United States are to reach this reputed agreement on working together to co-produce weaponry thereby accelerating arms deliveries, the partnership could circumvent the otherwise years-long FMS process. This would prove pivotal as, frankly, Taiwan may not have that time to spare. 

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley last year said that he expects China will have the capability it needs to invade Taiwan by 2027, and just this week U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that he believes China will begin pursuing reunification with Taiwan “on a much faster timeline.” This would coincide with a report published here at The War Zone earlier this year detailing how the speed with which China is able to acquire new weapons has allowed the country to do so nearly five times faster than the United States, putting beijing in a formidable position if it is to decide to invade Taiwan on a shortened timeline.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken answers questions by the media at Stanford University in Stanford, California on October 17, 2022. Credit: JOSH EDELSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

On top of that, at a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council this week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said that China’s invasion of Taiwan could occur as early as the end of this year or next year. 

“It’s not just what President Xi says, but it’s how the Chinese behave and what they do, said Gilday. “And what we’ve seen over the past 20 years is that they have delivered on every promise they’ve made earlier than they said they were going to deliver on it … When we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind that has to be a 2022 window or a potentially a 2023 window. I can’t rule that out. I don’t mean at all to be alarmist by saying that, it’s just that we can’t wish that away.”

Co-producing weapons with Taiwan primarily means that it would get the arms it needs faster and more assuredly, but it could also be beneficial in ensuring that its arms supply won’t instantly dry up in the instance of a Chinese intervention operation. The geographical realities of being an island in very close proximity to the Chinese mainland present additional challenges for wartime resupply. In comparison to Ukraine, with its predominate land borders with some allied countries that can more easily transport military aid across into the country, Taiwan is instead surrounded by water and the strategic Taiwan Strait, and is vulnerable to blockade. However, this would likely only be an advantage if an invasion attempt turned out to be a prolonged slog and Taiwan was able to keep its industrial base intact. Eventually, raw materials and imported components would become an issue.

During an August press conference, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters, “There’s [an] enormous amount of global commerce that passes through the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan itself is among the most impactful economic entities on planet Earth and it provides something like 70% to 90% of the most advanced semiconductors that everybody’s iPhone and laptops and everything else runs on. So obviously there could be a point at which the PRC could engage in activities that would have economic consequences, not just for Taiwan, but for the world economy. That’s one of the key reasons why there is a global consensus that there needs to be stability across the Taiwan Strait and that conflict across the Taiwan Strait is in nobody’s interest.”

Taiwanese navy launches a US-made Standard missile from a frigate during the annual Han Kuang Drill, on the sea near the Suao navy harbor in Yilan county on July 26, 2022. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP) (Photo by SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images)

Knowing this, accelerating the acquisition and production of arms as soon as possible would be hugely important for Taiwan, as the weapons will certainly be needed to hold off the Chinese if the People’s Liberation Army is to attempt a seizure of the island and hopefully they could help deter that action from happening in the first place. No matter the methods through which it is achieved, maintaining the military readiness of Taiwan is paramount to defending the island, and building up Taiwan’s arsenal is a key part of this equation.

At the same time, establishing production of some key American weapons overseas in allied countries seems to be a potential solution to an increasingly pressing problem. The sheer limitations of production capacity in the U.S. for some of these systems clearly is restricting supply while demand is going through the roof around the globe. By setting up licensed production offshore to augment domestic production, not only could America’s friends better arm themselves, but they could also potentially export some of those licensed-built weapons to other countries that are far down the waiting list. Considering the rate at which Ukraine has gobbled up some of these weapons, not coming up with such a plan seems to invite far greater risk than what was previously understood. A major peer conflict across a broad geographical region would require great stocks of advanced weaponry. Building up alternative sources now to increase production and stockpiles could prove critical in confronting such a reality.

At a time rife with global conflict, it is of course expected that foreign assistance will be required in other regions, but it is clear that Taiwan and the United States are at least working toward overcoming the complications brought on by strangled supply chains. 

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