Taiwan plans to acquire stealth fighters and do more with a defense budget 15-20 times smaller than China’s budget

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense plans to acquire new-generation stealth fighter jets with short or vertical takeoff and landing capabilities to deter Chinese military action against Taiwan, it said in its Quadrennial Defense Review released yesterday.

The military plans to procure the jets to improve its asymmetrical capabilities, as the cross-strait military balance has increasingly tilted in China’s favor, the report said.

It also plans to develop indigenous submarines and upgrade surface vessels, improve air-defense missile and road-mobile missile systems, and establish a fleet of uncrewed aerial combat vehicles.

Any jets capable of short or vertical takeoff and landing could be the ministry’s target, including, but not exclusively, the Lockheed Martin F-35, Deputy Minister of National Defense Lee Hsi-ming said during a question-and-answer session at the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee meeting in Taipei.

The ministry disputed reports that AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon systems and AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles are in an arms package for Taiwan to be approved by US President Donald Trump following his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which is scheduled for early next month in Florida.

The report presents defense guidelines for a “solid defense and multi-layered deterrents,” aiming to deter the enemy from waging war and, if deterrence fails, to launch a series of counterstrikes to destroy the incoming enemy at sea or on beaches.

“With the rapid growth of China’s defense budget, the People’s Liberation Army has made considerable progress to modernize and reform its military,” the review said. “It has the ability to blockade Taiwan, launch combined operations, and seize and hold Taiwan’s outlying islands.”

Lieutenant General Chiang Chen-chung (姜振中), director of the ministry’s Office for Operations and Planning, said the armed forces have the capability to launch a counteroffensive and attack China if necessary.

Asked if the armed forces could defend against multiple attacks launched from bases as far as 1,300km from Taiwan, Chiang said the military “has such ability and there are plans and training in place.”

Plans to develop a local defense industry, in particular the aerospace, shipbuilding and information security sectors, is what distinguishes this year’s review from previous ones, the ministry said.

Defense spending should be increased to 3 percent of the GDP, but the defense budget for this year of NT$355.7 billion (US$11.6 billion) is only 2.05 percent of GDP, Feng said.