The primary objective of the ROC's defense policy is to defend Taiwan, the Pescadores, Kinmen, and Matsu. This entails establishing a fighting force of sufficient readiness to guard the nation and protect its people. The direct and most serious threat to the ROC's national security remains the unwillingness of Peking to renounce the use of military force against Taiwan. Thus, while ROC national defense strategy calls for balanced development of the three Armed Forces, naval and air supremacy receive first priority. In addition to current defensive preparations, a long-term policy of developing an elite fighting force and self-sufficiency in defense technology is also being strictly followed. This calls for restructuring the Armed Forces, streamlining command levels, renovating logistical systems, merging or reassigning military schools and upper-ranking staff units, as well as reducing the total number of men in uniform.
The thinking behind changes to the ROC's Armed Forces over the years reflects a shift from equal stress on offense and defense to assuring defense. This strategic principle, as implemented under the Ten-Year Troop Reduction Plan, has led to a targeted force of less than 400,000 troops by the year 2003 and an increase in the ratio of combat troops to overall military manpower.
The allocation of resources among the three services gave priority to air superiority and control of the seas in defensive operations, as well as to coastal defense. Accordingly, a ten-year program is to be implemented in three phases, including the development of a practicable table of organization for the three services to facilitate training and carry out peacetime missions, elimination of overlapping staff units in the three major services, and consolidation of the General Staff Headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and the general headquarters of the three services, transferring non-military tasks to organizations outside the MND.
Second-generation weapon systems used by the three armed services are also being actively updated. These include the inception of four E-2T air defense warning systems, the formation of the first Ching-kuo indigenous defense fighter (IDF) squadron, the commissioning of the Cheng-kung and Knox-class missile frigates, and taking delivery of a second batch of AH-1W attack helicopters and OH-58D reconnaissance helicopters.
In proportion to its population, Taiwan still maintains a large military establishment. Defense expenditures for 2009 were NTD 387.7 billion (approximately U.S. $12.3 billion), accounting for 3.1% of GDP. For 2010, the Legislative Yuan allocated NTD 370.8 billion (approximately U.S. $11.73 billion) for defense, accounting for 2.96% of GDP. The military's primary mission is the defense of Taiwan against the P.R.C., which is seen as the predominant threat and which has not renounced the use of force against Taiwan. Taiwan's armed forces were reduced as part of a reform initiative from 1997 to 2001, going from about 450,000 to 385,000, with further reductions planned by the current administration to reduce the total force to just under 215,000. Registered reservists reportedly totaled 2,800,000 in 2009.
Conscription remains universal for qualified males between the ages of 18 and 30. In 2009 the length of conscription service was 12 months, with a view to moving toward an all-volunteer force by the end of 2014. For qualified applicants, alternative service is available in police and fire departments and public clinics, as well as through teaching in some rural schools. Applicants with advanced degrees may qualify for National Defense Service, consisting of reserve officer training followed by 4 years of work in a government or academic research institution.
Following heavy criticism of the leadership’s response to the August 2009 Typhoon Morakot recovery efforts, the military assumed a greater role in carrying out disaster prevention and relief missions, a task formally outlined in the Ministry of National Defense’s 2009 Defense Policy White Paper.
Taiwan's armed forces are equipped with weapons obtained primarily from the United States, with a much smaller number of systems procured from other Western nations. In response to economic difficulties related to the global financial crisis, along with the challenge of acquiring foreign military equipment in the face of increasingly stronger Chinese opposition, Taiwan has given greater consideration and effort to further developing its domestic defense industry, concentrating in select fields as it attempts to further develop domestic capacity. Consistent with Taiwan’s reliance on the U.S. for major weapons systems, in January 2010, the Barack Obama administration notified Congress of its intent to sell Taiwan various defensive weapons, valued at $6.4 billion, including Blackhawk helicopters and Patriot missiles. Taiwan adheres to the principles of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has stated that it does not intend to produce nuclear weapons.
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