US to sell air-to-ground missiles to Taiwan

The US government on Wednesday said it had approved the sale of $1 billion worth of advanced air-to-ground missiles to Taiwan as the island tries to shore up its defenses against China.

The State Department said it had agreed to sell 135 of the precision-guided, air-launched AGM-84H SLAM-ER cruise missiles.

Also approved was the sale of six MS-110 air reconnaissance pods and 11 M142 mobile light rocket launchers, taking the value of the three arms packages to $1.8 billion.

The SLAM-ER missiles will help Taiwan “meet current and future threats as it provides all-weather, day and night, precision attack capabilities against both moving and stationary targets” on the ground or ocean surface, a statement said.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said the weapons would help it “build credible combat capabilities and strengthen the development of asymmetric warfare”.

The sales announced Wednesday did not include the MQ9 Reaper combat drones, which Taiwan has also reportedly requested.

Democratic and self-ruled Taiwan lives under constant threat of invasion by authoritarian China, whose leaders view the island as part of their territory.

They have vowed to one day seize the island, by force if necessary.

China’s military defense spending dwarves Taipei’s and while the US does sell Taiwan weapons, it is not bound by a defense treaty as it is with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

Beijing has ramped up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who views the island as a de facto sovereign nation and not part of “one China”.

The last year has seen a dramatic increase in incursions by Chinese fighter jets and bombers into Taiwan’s defense zone while state media has ramped up saber-rattling.

Last week, Beijing released footage of a military exercise simulating an invasion of a Taiwan-like territory featuring missile strikes and amphibious landings.

The PLA also recently released a propaganda video simulating an attack on Taiwan that included missile strikes on US military bases in Guam.

While Taiwan has for decades fallen back on an implicit US security guarantee, Washington has urged it to strengthen its own capabilities to resist invasion.

“Whether there’s an amphibious landing, a missile attack, a grey zone-type (hybrid) operation, they really need to fortify themselves,” President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said last week.

“Taiwan needs to start looking at some asymmetric and anti-access area denial strategies… and really fortify itself in a manner that would deter the Chinese from any sort of amphibious invasion or even a grey zone operation against them,” he said.

The previous three US administrations were wary of big-ticket arms deals with Taipei for fear of incurring Beijing’s wrath.

President Trump has been much less squeamish about such sales, but his commitment to Taiwan’s defense has been called into question by his “America First” doctrine and on-again, off-again affection for Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

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