There has recently been a wave of criticism in the media about the Ministry of National Defense’s (MND) conduct of this year’s Han Kuang military maneuvers inasmuch as they involve live, as opposed to simulated, military personnel, but no live fire. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has also been criticized for not attending and presiding over most of the maneuvers. The ministry responded to these criticisms by issuing news releases two days in a row. However, a detailed reading of these press statements shows that they are full of errors. Once again, government bureaucrats have revealed their lack of professionalism as they deviously attempt to gloss over the truth.
The most absurd thing in the ministry’s press statements must surely be its claim that the reason why live-fire drills were not included in the maneuvers was to adhere to government policies of saving energy and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. This claim is ridiculous because even though 84 countries signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, none of them apply the protocol’s energy-saving and carbon-reducing standards to military maneuvers.
A second point the ministry made is that multiple preparatory drills are required before any live-fire exercise. The ministry said that all the administrative support tasks involved in preparatory drills interfered with the armed forces’ normal operations and wasted resources. The ministry also said that, following criticism about this disruption from various sources, it had reviewed the use of live-fire drills and decided to cancel them. This claim is even more laughable than the first. In effect, it is telling us that all the Han Kuang maneuvers held over the decades have been wasteful and disrupted people’s lives and work. It would be nice if the ministry could make a detailed analysis and comparison of all the preparation, expenses, procedures and results of all the Han Kuang maneuvers ever held and publish it with a full explanation of each.
Each of the armed services conducts its own basic, on-base, and multi-force combined training. These are followed by cross-service joint exercises and culminate in the annual Han Kuang maneuvers. The maneuvers are inter-regional, cross-service joint exercises involving all three armed services. The expectation is that the ministry can use these maneuvers to make an overall appraisal of all the military training that has been done throughout the year and prepare for potential future crises.
The purpose of live-fire drills is to simulate real combat situations as closely as possible and test the feasibility of overall tactics, as well as the reliability of weapons and equipment in complex combat environments. This makes them different to any other kind of training conducted by any of the armed services. It is not unreasonable, therefore, for people to question the reasons for canceling live-fire drills and to criticize this move as likely to weaken Taiwan’s national defense.
The ministry also repeated the point that since Ma became president, Taiwan has been able to purchase 10 kinds of important military equipment from the US, including a new type of utility helicopter that can be used for emergency and disaster rescue. Combined with upgrades to the nation’s F-16A/B jet fighters, the total cost of these military procurements comes to US$18.3 billion.
The minsitry quotes these figures in Ma’s defense to show that he pays considerable attention to national defense. In this regard, the US congressional report Taiwan: Major US Arms Sales Since 1990 records that the US Congress was notified of the sale of six military items amounting to US$6.463 billion on Oct. 3, 2008; five items amounting to US$6.392 billion on Jan. 29, 2010; and three items totaling US$5.852 billion on Sept. 21 last year. While these three amounts add up to US$18.707 billion, most items on the list were planned for during the preceding eight-year administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
However, anyone who has worked as a military officer in the field of investment planning for military development at the ministry, and any academic familiar with this kind of operational procedure, knows that major military purchases must be included in the 10-year military development plan and the five-year plan for renovating military strength, and then be added to the list of new developments for which the order of priority is set out through an annual review by the armed forces. Unless an informal emergency-response armaments procedure is invoked, the process must adhere to the normal regulations. The regular procedure involves submitting documents covering operational requirements, systems analysis and an investment outline, which takes at least 12 months to complete. The next step is for Taiwan’s government to submit a formal letter of request to the US. When the letter has been approved, the purchase plan still has to be submitted to Taiwan’s legislature for the budget to be approved. These steps take at least another six months.
So when considering Ma’s “achievement” in obtaining US$18.3 billion worth of arms from the US during the four years of his first term in office, one must make a detailed distinction to divide the items into three categories: items that were planned by the previous administration and procured by the present one, items that were planned and procured by the present administration, and those that have been planned under the present administration but have yet to be procured. If the items are not categorized in this way, it amounts to trying to make the present administration look good by distorting and inflating the figures.
Recent reports indicate that the submarine division of the South China Fleet of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has started conducting live drills similar to those carried out by the US Navy. These drills involve dividing the submarines into opposing “blue” and “red” groups and carrying out attack and defense flexible-response, live-fire exercises. The Chinese navy’s rapid progress in this respect is quite astonishing. Comparing China’s military drills with Taiwan’s Han Kuang maneuvers makes it quite obvious who has the upper hand. One can only conclude that Taiwan’s national defense is indeed getting weaker as time goes on.
Wang Jyh-perng is a reserve navy captain and an associate research fellow with the Association for Managing Defense and Strategies.
Translated by Julian Clegg