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Howitzer delivery to Taiwan delayed by strained U.S. supply chain

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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.

A second delivery of Stinger antiaircraft missiles may also be impacted. Neither delay has been directly connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however American military aid to Ukrainian forces is reportedly depleting weapons stockpiles and putting strain on production.

In a statement Monday, the ministry said that Washington had offered rocket launcher systems as a possible replacement to 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.

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Unless an alternative option 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.

“If the U.S. cancels the howitzers sale, it will be impossible for [Taiwan] to get the relevant systems from other countries,” said Chieh Chung, assistant professor at Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University.

Chieh added that the overly long, five minute reaction time of Taiwan’s current outdated systems could be reduced to just one minute by the Paladins, which cannot easily be substituted by the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) being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 military saber-rattling from China in recent years has pressed 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 United States 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, then that would be “provocation” for Beijing, he told the newspaper.

Other 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 still expected to be completed on schedule, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

Su Tzu-yun, military analyst at Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a Taiwan government-funded think tank, said that the 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.

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