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Taiwan Warming to Hosting US Ammo Storage Facilities
Russia's invasion of Ukraine spurs Washington to add new sites closer to where combat is expected
By: Jens Kastner
Taiwan’s defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng, during recent parliamentarian questioning, has confirmed that Taiwan and the US have opened talks on establishing a "contingency stockpile" of US munitions on the island, a move that would effectively elevate Taiwan to the same status as Washington’s NATO and major non-NATO allies.
Chiu’s confirmation comes against the backdrop of recent war games by the US-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) demonstrating that the US would quickly run out of a key weapon — Long Range Anti Ship Missiles (LRASM) — while trying to stop a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. It also comes amid concerns over the high-intensity warfare exposing the Ukrainian armed forces' lack of a widely-spread network of ammunition storage facilities.
Although Taiwan’s hosting of US ammunition storage facilities would be certain to enrage China, a key foreign policy figure of Taiwan’s largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), displayed a supportive stance towards the idea, which is particularly notable, given that the KMT is far more China-friendly than the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) and usually seeks avoiding provoking China.
“If Washington is thinking of increasing the inventory of munitions in Taiwan, it reflects a concrete security commitment to help Taiwan’s self-defense,” Alexander C. Huang, the KMT’s representative to the US, told Asia Sentinel. “The possible acquisitions and arrangements need to be discussed based on Taiwan’s defense concept and mutual interest.”
Confirmation of the talks comes two months after Japanese daily Nikkei reported that Japanese defense officials are weighing a plan to build dozens of ammunition and weapons depots on far-flung southwestern islands in preparation for a potential Taiwan crisis. Japan has about 1,400 ammunition storage facilities nationwide, but 70 percent are located in the country's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, more than 2,000 km away from Japanese islands in the East China Sea. One proposal would build nearly 70 ammunition storage facilities within the next five years. The new depots are to be located in the Nansei Islands, which include Okinawa and extend toward Taiwan from the southern tip of Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu.
According to the Nikkei report, Japan would struggle to keep its defense forces armed in a prolonged conflict, with the Kyushu and Okinawa regions, which are nearest Taiwan, holding fewer than 10 percent of the stockpiles.
“Ukraine may be the East Asia of tomorrow,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in January after meeting US President Joe Biden, calling security concerns in Europe and East Asia “inseparable.”
“The situation around Japan is becoming increasingly severe with attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and the activation of North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities,” he added.
Meanwhile, the US-led alliance seems to be moving to get ammo storage closer to Taiwan’s southern flank, as suggested by an announcement by the US. and the Philippines in February of four new sites at which US personnel will be able to access Philippine military facilities under the existing Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The EDCA, a bilateral defence pact that was signed in 2014, grants the US complete operational control of the listed locations. Media reports cited anonymous Philippine military sources as suggesting that two or three of the new sites will be in the northern provinces of Cagayan and Isabela, which are close to Taiwan.
“It's possible that there will be a munitions depot, but right now the specific EDCA sites have not been firmed up from Philippine side, and the type of facility in the EDCA site obviously will have to be subject of another discussion between both parties,” Rommel Ong, a retired Philippine rear admiral and currently a professor at the Ateneo School of Government, told Asia Sentinel.
Collin Koh, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, pointed out that the pre-positioning of military materiel along the First Island Chain (which includes Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines) would fit the ongoing patterns of building the resilience of US forces in the theater through dispersal of personnel and materiel. While these locations would be within targeting range of PLA strike capabilities, especially its missile arsenal, this helps the US forces to distribute vital stockpiles beyond just one basket when these ammo pre-positioning plans are seen altogether.
“The forces can deploy more quickly in-theater and enter combat operations more rapidly with the ammo stockpiles ready, and of course, the stockpiles, depending on how large they are, would be vital in sustaining the forces in-theater in times of a high-intensity conflict,” Koh said.
“The war in Ukraine, if anything, has amply highlighted how quickly ammo stockpiles can be burned through by high-intensity, high-tempo combat operations,” he added.