TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has announced a years-long delay for the delivery of U.S. howitzers, citing limited American production capacity, in a blow to the island democracy’s military upgrades.
In a statement Monday, the ministry said that Washington had offered rocket launcher systems as a possible replacement for the $750 million shipment of 40 M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, which became the first arms sale to Taiwan under the Biden administration when it was approved by the U.S. Department of Defense in August.
Unless an alternative is agreed to, delivery for the first batch has been pushed back from 2023 to 2026 at the earliest, during which Taiwan would remain reliant on decades-old artillery systems.
Self-propelled Paladins are in high demand by the Ukrainian army because they are less vulnerable to Russian counter-battery fire than the towed M777 howitzers that U.S. officials consider a critical component of recent deliveries.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the majority of U.S.-made weapons going to Ukraine are being pulled from the existing U.S. military arsenal.
“That is a different method of providing military articles than what is being provided … to Taiwan,” Kirby said.
Kirby did not address whether the war in Ukraine has complicated industrial supply lines or if U.S. Paladin howitzers will be going to Ukraine.
Chieh Chung, an assistant professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies said that if the United States were to cancel the howitzer sale, Taiwan would be hard pressed to get a similar system elsewhere.
He added that the overly long five-minute reaction time of Taiwan’s current systems could be reduced to one minute by the Paladins, which cannot easily be substituted by the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) being proposed by Washington as an alternative.
“HIMARS is a good weapon, but it is a long-range weapon to attack targets behind enemy lines,” Chieh said. “The self-propelled howitzers, on the other hand, equip front-line soldiers with close-range attacking ability when the two armies meet.”
On Tuesday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry also told journalists of the possible delay to a package of Stinger antiaircraft missiles set to finish delivery by 2026. Chu Wen-wu, deputy head of Taiwan’s army planning department, said that “due to changes in the international situation, there may be a risk of delayed delivery this year of the portable Stinger missiles,” according to Reuters.
U.S. lawmakers last week voiced concern that a reduced stockpile of Stingers and antitank Javelins made the U.S. military vulnerable. Greg Hayes, CEO of Raytheon Technologies, said in a quarterly earnings call that the company was seeing “significant inventory issues” for the two systems and would face difficulties ramping production rapidly.
Escalating saber-rattling from China in recent years has intensified self-governing Taiwan’s efforts to revamp its military and prepare to fend off a potential Chinese invasion. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and threatens to annex the island of 23.5 million by force should it ever declare legal independence.
China consistently opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Even so, the decision to delay the deal was not greeted warmly in Beijing. Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping told nationalist tabloid the Global Times that howitzers are not urgently needed or useful for Taiwan.
If the howitzers are replaced by the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, that would be “provocation” for Beijing, he told the newspaper.
Recently announced deals for Taiwan to purchase 66 F-16 fighter jets and 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks, with deliveries expected in 2026 and 2027, respectively, are expected to be completed on schedule, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday.
Su Tzu-yun, military analyst at Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a Taiwanese government-funded think tank, said the howitzer delay did not meant a shift in strategic cooperation between Taiwan and the United States. “I believe this is a tactical adjustment due to the impact of the war in Ukraine,” he said.
Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.