The US has cleared the equivalent of A$5.9 billion worth of potential arms sales to Taiwan over the past week, including for the first time, stand-off land attack missiles capable of hitting targets mainland China from across the Taiwan Strait.
First flagged earlier this month, the latest round of approvals for arms sales to Taiwan started on the October 21 when the US State Department announced it had cleared the potential sale 135 Boeing AGM-84H Stand-off Land Attack Missile – Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) missiles, 11 Lockheed-Martin M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), and 6 Collins Aerospace MS-110 long range multispectral airborne reconnaissance pods.
The SLAM-ER and MS-110 pods will almost certainly equip Taiwan’s fleet of Lockheed-Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets. Taiwan is currently upgrading its fleet of more than 140 jets, and has a further 66 new-build aircraft on order.
Meanwhile, Taiwan requested 64 MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) as part of the HIMARS package. The missiles will come with M57 unitary warheads and can hit point targets up to 300 km away. The total estimated value of the three packages is A$2.54 billion.
This was followed on October 26 by the approval of a A$3.36 billion package of 400 RGM-84L-4 ground-launched Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles, 100 mobile launchers and 25 radar trucks.
The sales, which have to be cleared by the US Congress although it is unlikely to face opposition, will allow Taiwan to better defend itself against an invasion by China, which claims the self-governing island as part of its territory and pledged to take it back by force if necessary.
Including the ATACMS and SLAM-ER is also significant, as the US has hitherto been reluctant to sell such weapons to Taiwan to avoid angering China. The approval of the ATACMS, in particular, gives Taiwan the ability to target ports, airbases and other coastal targets directly opposite Taiwan without the use of air power.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in 1979, the US is obliged to provide weapons necessary for Taiwan’s “self-defence” and past American administrations have deemed long range missiles to fall outside of that scope.