Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Eight Submarines

The special budget that would allow Taiwan to purchase numerous significant weapon systems from the United States is once again being discussed in the news and blogosphere. Michael Turton of The View from Taiwan reports that PACOM commander Admiral William Fallon has recommended that the submarines be removed from the special budget in order to facilitate its passage. That does not appear to be the case. From the Washington Times article under discussion:
The officers said the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. William J. Fallon, had encouraged Taiwan to strengthen its defenses with increased spending, a better command structure, more joint training, and defensive missiles, mines and helicopters.

After studying Taiwan's defenses, the U.S. officers said, the admiral has urged the Taiwanese forces to acquire more missiles for their fighter-interceptor jet aircraft, ground-based anti-aircraft missiles, attack helicopters and mines to defend the beaches against amphibious invaders and transport helicopters to move troops against invading paratroopers.

The officers suggested that the arms package featuring offensive weapons such as diesel-electric submarines, anti-submarine patrol planes and destroyers, which the Bush administration offered to sell Taiwan in 2001, be allowed to fade away.
"The officers" in question are anonymous "Senior officers of the U.S. Pacific Command" not Admiral Fallon. It is not inconceivable that Fallon supports cutting the submarines given his background (he is a career naval aviator), but that isn't what the article says.

On the call to cut the subs from the special budget, Turton comments:
It's high time senior US decisionmakers started talking sense on this topic. Subs are useless as deterrents for invasion -- especially when they will arrive in dribs and drabs over 10 years, making a grand total of 8. Pundits often quote "But the best weapon to hunt another sub with is a sub" without really thinking through the implications. HINT: If we're subhunting, which nation do you want to be -- the one that operates dozens of subs, or the one that operates eight? The fact is that this axiom is a two-edged sword, and the Chinese side is a lot sharper.

As I am one of the "pundits" in question (see my previous post), allow me to defend the submarine purchase. Not buying new submarines surrenders control of everything under the sea to China (although Taiwan could still conduct anti-submarine warfare from the surface or sky). China currently has the world's largest submarine force (55 submarines), if not the most potent (America's 54 nuclear submarines are far more capable), and is still growing rapidly even as it retires its older Romeos. Surrendering everything subsurface waters isn't particularly wise. To put it mildly, I wouldn't want to be in a surface ship when the opponent is dominant underneath me. Submariners have a saying:
There are two types of ships: submarines and targets.
Turton advocates reallocating the money for submarines to fighters, but the point remains that there is no money for the subs hence the current standstill. I would advocate fixing weaknesses before maximizing strengths, even though both are certainly important.