Joe Biden Set To Approve First Arms Sale to Taiwan Amid China Threat

President Joe Biden is set to approve his administration's first weapons sale to Taiwan, providing the Chinese-claimed island with self-propelled artillery in a deal expected to be fulfilled within three years, according to reports this week.

The American Institute in Taiwan, the U.S.' de facto embassy in Taipei, told the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen in March that the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) would soon notify Congress of the deal, United Daily News reported on Sunday.

The agreement is expected to include 40 M109A6 "Paladin" self-propelled howitzers and related equipment, with delivery expected in phases between 2023 and 2025, the newspaper said, citing a senior government source.

Ahead of a legislative hearing on Monday, Taiwan's Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng confirmed that the country's request to purchase M109A6s had been ongoing for sometime, adding that Taipei had yet to receive formal notification of approval from Washington.

Chiu was among the senior Taiwanese officials to meet with a U.S. delegation sent to Taipei by President Biden last week. The minister said discussions centered on regional security and post-pandemic cooperation, but weapons deals were not mentioned.

If confirmed, it would be the Biden administration's first arms sale to democratically ruled Taiwan, after former President Donald Trump sanctioned 11 weapons deals to the island in his four years in office, including six amid a marked escalation in military tensions in the Taiwan Strait last year.

According to United Daily News, discussions surrounding the procurement of M109A6s began during the Trump administration, but the deal was delayed due to complications in sourcing M982 Excalibur guided artillery shells. Sweden, which took part in the research and development of the 155 mm precision weapon, opposed the sale, the paper said.

The Tsai administration official cited in the report did not say whether Taiwan would be able to acquire M982 Excalibur shells, only that the procurement process was ongoing.

The incoming M109A6 support weapons will be assigned to the Republic of China Army and complement the force's aged M109A2 and M109A5 self-propelled guns, the youngest of which have been in service for 21 years, according to Taiwan's government-funded Central News Agency.

Military analysts on the island have noted the Paladin's superior automated fire control system, allowing it to fire its first shell within 60 seconds of setting up for an average of eight shells per minute.

The M109A6 has an effective firing range of between 15 and 18 miles depending on the payload. The GPS-guided M982 Excalibur shell, meanwhile, can strike targets at distances of up to 25 miles, CNA reported.

Following President Biden's election win last November, analysts both in Taipei and Beijing expected a significant lull in arms sales to Taiwan as the new administration reviewed the U.S.' China policy.

Although yet to be confirmed by the Pentagon, this week's reports have already elicited a response from China's nationalistic tabloid the Global Times, which said the weapons deal would "add fuel to the flames" of already strained cross-strait and U.S.-China relations.

Last December, DSCA published figures showing annual foreign military sales totaling $50.78 billion for the fiscal year. Taiwan was the largest recipient of U.S.-made weapons and equipment, purchasing $11.8 billion worth of military goods in 2020—more than double the second-highest recipient, Poland.

Taiwan defense official Lee Shih-chiang, who is head of strategic planning, told lawmakers on Monday that the country was still in the process of acquiring AGM-158 JASSM long-range cruise missiles.

With a change exceeding 600 miles, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles can also be fixed to aircraft such as Taiwan's F-16 fleet.

While Taiwan has continued its procurement and development of conventional weapons, the government has placed an emphasis on the country's asymmetric war-fighting capabilities, including smaller, more mobile fast attack missile boats.

Biden Sells Self-Propelled Howitzers to Taiwan
A line of U.S. Army Paladin M109A6 155 mm self-propelled howitzers take part in a live-fire exercise near the Iraqi border in northern Kuwait on February 13, 2003. Scott Nelson/Getty Images