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This is from the Washington Post

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Taiwan Displays Its Feeble Fleet

By John Pomfret Washington Post Foreign Service

TSOYING NAVAL BASE, Taiwan  Taiwan's navy calls it the Sea Leopard, but it looks like the Beached Whale.

Entering this cramped 56-year-old submarine should be a journey into the past. There are two similar subs in museums in Philadelphia and Mount Pleasant, S.C. Unfortunately for Taiwan, however, the Sea Leopard is very much in the present. With a hull pockmarked by age, rust eating its sides and an engine and pressurization system that cannot keep up, the Guppy-class sub, built in Philadelphia in the closing days of World War II, makes up one-quarter of Taiwan's submarine fleet.

As China threatens to attack Taiwan if it does not begin reunification talks soon, a visit to Taiwan's main naval base at Tsoying, just north of the big port of Kaohsiung on the island's southwest coast, provides an important perspective on the standoff between Taipei and Beijing. Here Taiwan's ships and submarines, some more than 50 years old and equipped with weapons long obsolete in the West, lean against crumbling docks. Seamen loll about the decks. A Special Forces squad, accompanied by a snoozing dog, prepares languidly for a training mission.

The visit, the first by a foreign correspondent, reveals the eagerness of Taiwan's government to tell Washington the story of its military needs. It also reveals a military that says at every turn it needs serious help--in particular, from the Aegis system of antimissile radars, which the Clinton administration is considering selling to Taiwan.

A missile attack from China could turn the base into rubble because Taiwan lacks advanced radar, bemoaned the Tsoying fleet's commander, Vice Adm. Fei Hrong-po. Taiwan's navy and the rest of its military are hurting, he said, and are in danger of losing an arms race with the mainland. "The gap between them and us is growing bigger and bigger," Fei warned. "If we don't do something about it now, it will be too late."

China, with a population of 1.3 billion, announced Monday that if Taiwan indefinitely postpones negotiations on political reunification, it might invade the island of 22 million. Previously, China had said it would storm Taiwan only if the island declared independence or was occupied by a foreign power. Western experts say China's military currently is not strong enough to invade Taiwan, but they add that within five years Beijing will have enough short-range missiles and submarines to enforce a blockade.

China's declaration, made in a government white paper, brought angry words from Taiwan and the United States, which warned of "incalculable" consequences if China lived up to its warning. But at the same time, China's saber-rattling also drew into focus perhaps the murkiest part of the equation in one of the world's most strategic waterways: Taiwan's ability to defend itself.

This question is of crucial importance to the United States. The Taiwan Relations Act, passed in 1979, obligates the United States, albeit in vague terms, to provide support for Taiwan if it is attacked, and it mandates weapons sales to Taiwan to ensure its ability to defend itself. And Congress is considering expanding defense ties with the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which has passed in the House but which the Clinton administration has vowed to veto if it is approved by the Senate.

The Clinton administration, meanwhile, is debating whether to make what would be one of the United States' most controversial weapons sales to Taiwan to date--four 8,000-ton Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers equipped with Aegis over-the-horizon radar that would push Taiwan an important step forward in creating a missile defense system.

A senior Chinese official said this week that sale of such a weapons system would be a grave violation of China's sovereignty, and he warned of a serious Chinese response. China has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province since 1949, when Communist forces led by Mao Zedong seized power and chased Nationalist troops off the mainland. Taiwan views itself as a sovereign country. Some on the island believe it should never reunite with China; others hold on to the goal of eventual reunification.

Some Taiwanese naval officers and military experts say Taiwan is in serious need of submarines. China has 96 subs, compared with Taiwan's four. China can deploy 45 submarines at once in waters around Taiwan, including Russian-built Kilo-class and Chinese-built Ming- and Song-class. In five years, they say, the gap will expand by at least 23 vessels, including a nuclear submarine now being developed.

Two of Taiwan's subs are hapless Guppies. Using them in combat would be tantamount to a death sentence for the crew of 72 men and 10 officers. The Sea Leopard, for example, was built to last 15,000 hours a year at sea, but last year made it only 5,000. When it was refurbished in 1964, it could dive to 415 feet. These days, it is lucky if it reaches 200.

"She's an old lady but we're proud of her," said Capt. Lee Chao-peng, commander of Taiwan's submarine task force. "But she's just too noisy and we're having trouble getting spare parts. So it is very urgent for us to obtain more submarines, to train for surface and anti-submarine warfare."

But the State Department has ruled that submarines are offensive weapons, and the U.S. policy is to sell only defensive weapons to Taiwan. The last time anyone sold Taiwan submarines was in 1987-88, when the Dutch delivered two Zwaardvis-II class vessels. Beijing was so incensed that it almost broke relations with The Hague.

So Taiwan is focusing on the Aegis defense system.

Taiwan wants the four vessels, said Adm. Lee Jye, chief of Taiwan's navy, to defend against China's massive superiority in missiles. By 2005, he said, China will have 800 M9 ballistic missiles and a large but unknown number of M11 missiles, both of which will be able to cross the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait in minutes. He said he expects that if China attacks, it will saturate Taiwan with 400 missiles at once, striking at airfields, ports, electrical power stations, telecommunications centers and military command centers.

"China has so many missiles, antimissile defense and air defense is our highest priority," he said. "An arms race is not just a concern; it is happening. In the end, Communist China wants to become a superpower. We don't. We just want to exist."

The Aegis would aid Taiwan's defense, navy officers argue, by creating a radar net around Taiwan that could help repulse a missile attack. It could give early warning of a Chinese missile launch and then coordinate defensive fire by Taiwan's land-based Patriot-3 antimissile batteries or by sea-based antimissile guns produced in Taiwan.

The advanced systems also would aid battlefield management--which would allow Taiwan's three services, especially its air force and navy, to coordinate responses to a Chinese assault.

The idea, said Fei, commander of the Tsoying fleet, is for Taiwan to be able to survive the first round so that American forces can have time to come to its aid.

The problem with the Aegis is that Taiwan's military may not be capable of absorbing it. Researchers say that the navy's manpower problems, intensified by a booming economy, are so great that if the first Aegis destroyer is delivered in 2002 as hoped, the navy will have to remove men from several ships to scrape together the 300 crew members necessary to staff one boat. Four ships, they say, would severely tax the navy's personnel.

The Aegis system, said Michael Swaine, an expert on Asian security at the Rand Corp., is more than Taiwan "can handle at present from a technical/training point of view." In an e-mail exchange, he noted that it also would "eat up enormous defense revenues (even with special allocations, it's a lot of money, at around $1 billion each), and many in [Taiwan's] navy place a higher value on the acquisition of submarines." Taiwan's annual defense budget is about $10 billion.

Swaine and other analysts worry that Taiwan is seeking the Aegis purchase more for political than military reasons. It would be a clear signal of U.S. support for Taiwan, at least equivalent to the 1992 sale of 150 F-16 warplanes, and would presage an even greater defense collaboration between Taipei and Washington through development of a theater missile defense system.

The issues swirling around the Aegis, however, constitute just one of a litany of defense issues confronting Taiwan.

Taiwan's American-made F-16s, for example, cannot communicate with its French-made Mirages because the government has not allocated funds for a new communications system.

In the army, a series of unexplained deaths among recruits has highlighted serious concerns about the physical fitness of Taiwan's youth. The army has issued an unofficial rule that no training will be done when the temperature is above 84 degrees for fear of heat exhaustion.

"The joke is that as long as Taiwan stays cool, [China] won't invade," said one senior Taiwanese military analyst. "But once it gets hot, we're in danger."

) 2000 The Washington Post Company

-- Zdude (zdude777@hotmail.com), February 26, 2000


One glaring factual mistake, and one failure to report history in this article.

First, the radar used in the Aegis system is not over-the-horizon. It is no secret that the radar operates in the 3300 MHz range, which is horizon limited. If the author of the story means that it will detect objects at long ranges, he's correct, but OTH defines a specific capability that requires radar systems operating at frequencies only 1/100th of the AN/SPY-1. That's basic physics of propagation.

Second, in 1993 the Taiwan government was seeking a phased array radar system (and integrated combat system) design from the same contractor that designed and builds the AN/SPY-1 radar that is the centerpiece of Aegis, that design to provide much (but not all) of the same capability as SPY-1. They used negotiations and a preliminary design effort to try to obtain a full Aegis system, which was not in the cards. What was offered was price driven. In other words, they were offered what they were willing to pay for.

But, they then rejected the very capable design that was offered to them -- once which would serve their current needs very well.

I left that US contractor in 1993, and was offered a job as a consultant on the Taiwan Chinese effort......designing the radar for it. I turned it down and was glad, because it bacame a nightmare.

-- rocky (rknolls@no.spam), February 26, 2000.

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