F-35 fighters to keep the peace in Tai­wan

Sell­ing ad­vanced jets to Taipei serves U.S. in­ter­ests, too

The Washington Times Daily - - CLASSIFIED - By Richard D. Fisher Jr. Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a se­nior fel­low with the In­ter­na­tional As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter.

Since the Tru­man pres­i­dency, the United States has pre­served peace in the Tai­wan Strait by arm­ing Tai­wan to de­ter at­tack from Com­mu­nist China. It’s a strat­egy that could be con­tin­ued by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to early in­di­ca­tions, by the sale of the Lock­heed-Martin F-35 fifth-gen­er­a­tion multi-role com­bat jet. But af­ter hav­ing lifted the morale of long-be­lea­guered Tai­wan like no other pres­i­dent since Ron­ald Rea­gan with his De­cem­ber 2016 phone con­ver­sa­tion with Tai­wan Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing Wen, Pres­i­dent Trump tem­pered ex­pec­ta­tions about the F-35 sale in an April 27 in­ter­view with Reuters, say­ing, “I’d have to think about that.” Mr. Trump’s com­ment on the F-35 sale fol­lowed his state­ment that he has “es­tab­lished a good re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Xi [of China] … who is do­ing ev­ery­thing in his power to help us with a big sit­u­a­tion,” re­fer­ring to North Korea’s nu­clear mis­sile threat.

Now, Mr. Xi could wake up to­mor­row and de­cide that China’s 68 years of con­sis­tent po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary sup­port for

North Korea’s Kim fam­ily dic­ta­tor­ship was all wrong, and that China’s re­cent 25 years of diplo­matic and tech­ni­cal sup­port for Py­ongyang’s nu­clear and mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties now threat­ens the Chi­nese peo­ple. But even if he did so, North Korea has likely had the time to nearly com­plete its de­vel­op­ment of small nu­clear war­heads and the liq­uid and solid fuel in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles (ICBMs) to de­liver them to Amer­i­can cities.

China’s tirades against the U.S. de­ploy­ment to South Korea of the Theater High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) mis­sile in­ter­cep­tors to help de­fend South Kore­ans and U.S. troops sta­tioned there from North Korean mis­siles likely means Mr. Xi is not go­ing to go to war against Py­ongyang. Nor is he go­ing to di­min­ish China’s aid to Pak­istan’s nu­clear mis­sile pro­grams and to the Ira­nian regime, re­verse its im­pe­ri­al­ism in the South China Sea or halt its mil­i­ta­riza­tion of outer space.

But on the Tai­wan Strait, China’s am­bi­tions since the 1950s to de­stroy the non-com­mu­nist, and now demo­cratic, gov­ern­ment on Tai­wan can be ar­rested by con­tin­u­ing to arm Tai­wan for a new gen­er­a­tion of war­fare. Like the United States, China is in­vest­ing in what some of its strate­gists call “light war,” or the com­bin­ing of new, pow­er­ful in­for­ma­tion war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties with new en­ergy weapons. As it does so, China is quickly amass­ing Cold War-era ca­pa­bil­i­ties, such as mul­ti­ple war­head ICBMs, air­craft car­ri­ers and stealth bombers.

Af­ter 2020, China’s com­ple­tion of a mas­sive mil­i­tary re­or­ga­ni­za­tion, its im­ple­men­ta­tion of new joint force strate­gies, and its ac­cu­mu­la­tion of thou­sands of civil fer­ries and barges could en­able China to in­vade Tai­wan for the first time since the 1950s. But it is also pos­si­ble for Mr. Trump to do what the Bush and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions failed to do: help Tai­wan be­gin to ob­tain the next-gen­er­a­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties nec­es­sary to con­tinue to de­ter Chi­nese at­tack.

To be sure, Taipei is al­ready seized with the chal­lenge of har­ness­ing new of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive in­for­ma­tion war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties such as data links, and may be mak­ing its own ini­tial in­vest­ments in en­ergy weapons. But the F-35 can serve to ac­cel­er­ate Tai­wan’s tran­si­tion into the next-gen­er­a­tion war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­quired to de­ter Chi­nese at­tack.

In ad­di­tion to a de­fen­sive and of­fen­sive com­bat air­craft per­for­mance bet­ter than Tai­wan’s cur­rent main force of about 140 fourth-gen­er­a­tion F-16 fighters, the F-35’s ad­vanced radar, op­ti­cal sen­sors, which can see mis­sile launches at least 800 miles away, and its ad­vanced data links, all mean it can serve as a more sur­viv­able long-range sur­veil­lance and elec­tronic war­fare plat­form. For Tai­wan, as it will do for the air forces of the U.S., Ja­pan and South Korea, the F-35 can help tar­get in­com­ing mis­siles, and iden­tify air, naval and ground threats and quickly help fash­ion a joint-force re­sponse.

By the end of the 2020s the F-35 may also be among the first U.S. fighters to be armed with a laser weapon that can de­feat air and ground-launched mis­siles, ca­pa­bil­i­ties that Tai­wan will also re­quire.

Tai­wan may only be in­ter­ested in a mod­est num­ber of the short take-off and ver­ti­cal land­ing-ca­pa­ble F-35B. The Tsai ad­min­is­tra­tion wants the F-35, and its Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party con­trols the leg­is­la­ture and the bud­get, so it is a re­al­is­tic time to sell this fighter to Tai­wan.

China’s Xi Jin­ping may yet move to de­fend China from North Korea’s nu­clear mis­siles he helped to cre­ate, but that does not mean that China shares U.S. in­ter­ests in the South China Sea, the East China Sea or on the Tai­wan Strait. Amer­ica must move to de­fend its in­ter­ests in th­ese ar­eas, and sell­ing the F-35 to Tai­wan would help to pre­serve peace in the Tai­wan Strait.

China’s am­bi­tions since the 1950s to de­stroy the non-com­mu­nist, and now demo­cratic, gov­ern­ment on Tai­wan can be ar­rested.

ILLUSTRATION BY GREG GROESCH

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