Amid growing tensions between China and Taiwan, a group of 25 US defense contractors plans to send delegates to the island nation in early May to explore opportunities for joint production of drones and ammunition.
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, the President of the US Taiwan Business Council, shared this information with Nikkei Asia.
The delegation, which marks the first major group of envoys from the US defense industry to visit Taiwan since 2019, will be headed by Steven Rudder, a retired commander of the US Marine Corps Forces Pacific.
Apart from engaging in discussions with representatives from the Taiwanese defense industry, the delegation is also seeking to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, according to Hammond-Chambers.
He added that President Tsai is committed to strengthening Taiwan’s defense industry, and the purpose of the trip is to encourage greater cooperation in this field between the US and Taiwan.
The discussions are anticipated to focus on developing precision-guided bombs and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), significantly improving Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
Hammond-Chambers stated that the Taiwanese side is interested in drones, including aerial, surface, and subsurface models and munitions.
As part of their discussions, the US delegation will explore opportunities to provide advanced technology and collaborate with Taiwanese companies to develop drones.
The delegation will include several American defense contractors with expertise in drone technology, although the specific names of these companies have not been disclosed in the report.
Even so, US companies are typically required to obtain government authorization when it comes to the joint production of weapons with foreign partners. Strict regulations govern this process to ensure that military technology and expertise transfer is carried out responsibly.
A senior official in the Biden administration told Nikkei that the US government acknowledges the possible advantages of collaborating with Taiwanese companies on the joint production of weapons. However, they approach such agreements on a case-by-case basis.
The official explained that they would only consider joint production arrangements at the request of the US industry.
Will US Export Excalibur Shells To Taiwan?
Washington is willing to discuss the idea considering how difficult it is for American defense contractors to meet their commitments at home and abroad.
The United States has yet to deliver approximately $19 billion in pledged armaments to Taiwan. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US defense firms began increasing domestic manufacturing capacity, although these additions will take time to fructify.
According to a report by Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the USA’s defense industry is not ready for the current security environment.
The US could run out of munitions in a major conflict with China. Jones suggested partnering with overseas companies to address this issue.
In recent years, almost all of Taiwan’s weapons purchases from abroad have come from the United States. However, the US has been reaching out to European countries to strengthen its defense partnership with Taiwan, said Nikkei Asia, citing three sources.
One potential partner could be Sweden, which has a joint development project with Raytheon Missiles & Defense for the Excalibur guided artillery shell, which could enhance Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
For a US company to export arms developed with a foreign partner to a third country or region, they need approval from the partner’s government.
The Excalibur guided artillery shell, developed jointly by Raytheon Missiles & Defense and Sweden’s BAE Systems Bofors, was not exported to Taiwan under the Trump administration due to Sweden’s concerns about angering Beijing.
However, according to one of the three sources, the Biden administration has not dismissed the possibility of exporting Excalibur to Taiwan. Earlier, Russia had termed Excalibur as Ukraine’s ‘most dangerous’ weapon hitting the Russian military with deadly accuracy.
In January 2023, the Donetsk People’s Republic militia said that these guided shells made up “the most dangerous” part of US military aid to Ukraine and highlighted that they must be destroyed while still in storage facilities.
Nevertheless, the move by US defense contractors is likely to draw criticism from Beijing, which views Taiwan as a renegade province and has long sought to isolate it diplomatically.
China has also been increasingly vocal in its opposition to any official diplomatic relations between the US and Taiwan, warning against any actions that could be seen as support for Taiwan’s independence.
Despite the risks, the joint production of drones and ammunition would represent a major step forward for US-Taiwan defense cooperation. It could help to deter any potential military action by China.
Washington and Beijing will closely watch the talks in early May, which could have significant implications for the future of US-China relations.