Taiwan’s AH-64 deal: a knife for a gunfight

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Some years back I toured the USS Nimitz . Somebody in the groupasked the officer showing us around about the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow launcher.

“If it ever gets to the point we need to use that, we’realready dead,” he replied.

The same could be said of last week’s news that Taiwanwill purchase 30 Boeing AH-64 Block III attack helicopters from the United States. There is little doubt about theApache’s effectiveness in combat over the last two decades in conditions whereits western users have aerial supremacy. Providing more Apaches to Taiwan,however, is somewhat like providing a knife to a man who needs a rifle.

In the (extremely hypothetical) scenario where Chinawas committed to using force to take the island, it would strive to achieveaerial superiority, if not outright supremacy, before launching its invasionfleet across the Straits of Taiwan. This is outlined in a recent Rand Report, Shakingthe Heavens and Splitting the Earth.

How well the Apache would perform its ground attack role insky filled with Chinese fighters is questionable. Effective? Perhaps. A gamechanger? No way.

What Taiwanreally needs (wait for it) from the USAare the 66 Lockheed Martin F-16 C/Ds it has been seeking since 2006.Notwithstanding the support of many congressmen for the deal, Washingtonis simply too wary of Chinato sign off. According to some industry observers Washingtonis also concerned about Chinagaining access to the technology in these aircraft.

Meanwhile Chinacontinues building its fleet of J-10s – with photos emerging recently of theJ-10B with what looks like an AESA radar – and J-11s.  Last week it confirmed the existence of theShi-Lang, its new aircraft carrier. It also has plenty of missiles capable ofhammering Taiwan‘sairfields. And then there is the developmental Chengdu J-20, which some view asa long range strike aircraft.

Against all this Taiwanfields its aging F-16 A/Bs, Mirage-2000s, Ching-kuos, and F-5s. It is a fleetbadly in need of renewal, but what outsider will dare risk China‘sire?

A quick browse of the weekend’s news shows Chinahas yet to pound its fist on the table in response to the Apache deal.  If it remains true to form it will issue ablistering response and suspend military ties with the USAfor a while. But behind the bluster its military brass will know that theApache deal has done little to change the balance of power in the TaiwanStraits. 

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3 Responses to Taiwan’s AH-64 deal: a knife for a gunfight

  1. snogglethorpe 15 June, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    The craveness of the U.S. in this matter is absurd, not to mention pointless — the more the U.S. cave in to Chinese blustering/foaming/ranting on such things, the more they’re going to do it.

    The only strategy that seems workable in the long run is to be polite, promptly address any reasonable objections (few objections w/r/t Taiwan are likely to be reasonable, but I’m sure they turn up occasionally) — and otherwise ignore them.

  2. snogglethorpe 15 June, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    The craveness of the U.S. in this matter is absurd, not to mention pointless — the more the U.S. cave in to Chinese blustering/foaming/ranting on such things, the more they’re going to think they can use such techniques to get their way.

    The only strategy that seems workable in the long run is to be polite, promptly address any reasonable objections (few objections w/r/t Taiwan are likely to be reasonable, but I’m sure they turn up occasionally) — and otherwise ignore them.

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