With the media raising the spectre of confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, there’s been quite a flow of news about Taiwan’s military in recent days.

Yesterday the US Taiwan Business Council criticized Washington for delaying on the sale of 66 F-16 fighters the island desperately needs:

A U.S. business group accused the Bush administration Friday of jeopardizing Taiwan’s security by stalling a potential $4.9 billion deal for 66 advanced Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighter jets.

In recent weeks, the administration has heaped pressure on President Chen Shui-bian to abort a planned referendum on United Nations membership in the name of Taiwan.

As part of its drive to derail what it deems a provocation to Beijing, U.S. officials have told Taipei to delay formal efforts to acquire the F-16C/Ds, said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council.

“This is unprecedented in any bilateral U.S. security relationship,” Hammond-Chambers said in a telephone interview. “Depriving Taiwan of the arms it needs is inherently destabilizing.”

The business council represents about 100 U.S. companies doing business with Taiwan, including top U.S. military contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon Co.

Taiwan’s legislature adopted a 2007 defense budget on June 15 that included funds to start buying new F-16s provided the United States released price and availability data — the first step in the arms-sale process — by Oct. 31.

Hammond-Chambers is entirely correct: the US position is fundamentally destabilizing, for it is (1) signaling that Taiwan is violating the Status Quo; (2) refusing to sell it needed weapons; and (3) attempting to suppress its development of missiles that can hit targets in China. It is also bad business and poor procurement policy — every F-16 sold to Taiwan means jobs in the US, and reduced procurement costs for the US military as they can take advantage of economies of scale in defense manufacturing.

Even as the State Department criticized Taiwan for taking liberties with the Status Quo, the Pentagon offered Taiwan $2.3 billion in weapons last week. The most recent Nelson Report noted:

it may not be entirely coincidental that one day following a major policy speech on US-Taiwan relations by DAS/State Tom Christensen (Nelson Report, 9/11), DOD was given clearance to ask Congressional approval for an arms sale including the long-stalled anti-submarine patrol aircraft for the island.

The Pentagon’s offer included:

The Pentagon announced tentative plans on Wednesday to sell surplus P-3C Orion submarine-hunting aircraft and air-defense missiles to Taiwan in deals potentially worth more than $2.23 billion, including related gear and services.

Taiwan is seeking to buy 12 surplus P-3C maritime patrol aircraft with T-56 turboprop engines, data terminals and a mobile operation command center in a deal that could be worth $1.96 billion, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice to Congress.

It said in a separate notice it was also tentatively planning to sell Taiwan 144 SM-2 Block 3A Standard missiles to defend against cruise missiles and aircraft threats in a package that could total $272 million.

The P-3C is a land-based maritime patrol and submarine warfare aircraft. It is replaced in the U.S. arsenal by the P-6 Multi-mission maritime aircraft due to enter service in 2013.

As part of the proposed P-3C deal, Taiwan also would get help integrating its intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance network, the Pentagon said.

This interesting juxtaposition of criticism on one hand with arms sales on the other may indicate to some that the State Department is engaging in political theatre whose real meaning is the opposite of what is ostensibly intends, but nothing coming out of Washington suggests that. It is more likely that the Pentagon is showing its displeasure with State’s position vis-a-vis China, or that the US government is so huge the left and right hand are not only unaware of what the other is doing; they do not even know they are attached to the same body.

Also on Taiwan’s procurement list is 90 engines for its next generation attack boats, from Tognum AG in Germany. Veteran corrrespondent Wendell Minnick has the call in Defense News:

The Taiwan navy has placed a four-year, $149 million order for 90 diesel engines from MTU Asia, a subsidiary of Tognum. Three of the 16-cylinder Series 4000 engines will power each stealthy 170-ton Kuang Hua-6 (KH-6) Guided-Missile Patrol Craft.

The KH-6 was designed by the navy’s Ship Development Center in Tsoying Naval Base in Kaohsung; a prototype was introduced in 2003 after three years of development.

The boats have sophisticated surveillance and fire control systems, radars and data links. With a top speed of 30 kts and a range of 800 nautical miles, the boat is 34.2 meters long, 7.6 meters wide, four meters high and has one 20mm gun. Its main deck is canted at 12 degrees to reduce the radar signature; special paint reduces the infrared signature.

The KH-6 will be armed with four Hsiung Feng 2 (Brave Wind) anti-ship missiles. During the annual Hankuang 19 exercise in 2003, the KH-6 prototype test-fired one HF-2 missile that destroyed a retired Yang-class (Gearing-class) destroyer. The HF-2 was developed by the military’s Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, which says the missile has a range of 150 km at Mach .85 — sources say more. CSIST’s other missiles include a new HF-3 and a land attack cruise missile version, the 600-km HF-2E, that can strike deep inside China.

Launched in 1996, the KH-6 program has seen numerous setbacks. Fifty boats were planned, a number halved two years later due to budget constraints. In 2005, state-owned China Shipbuilding Corp. (CSBC) received a $292 million contract, then fought off a challenge by Jong Shyn Shipbuilding.

The 30 KH-6s will replace 50 47-ton Hai Ou-class (Sea Gull) PTGs, which carry two HF-1 missiles and whose aluminum-alloy hulls had coorosion problems. In 1998, a Hai Ou hull buckled after running aground and sinking off Penghu Islands southwest of Taiwan. Based on the Israeli Dvora-class, the Hai Ou were built indigenously in the early 1980s with public donations. The donations were given as a show of support for the military after the U.S. switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Minnick’s reference to the tussle between CSBC and Jong Shyn relates to a minor scandal that occurred when a private firm complained that the bid had been rigged. The story is still hanging around on the excellent Global Security website.

With China making noises at Taiwan, the Taiwan military took unusual steps to reassure the public that Everything is Under Control, opening the new Kidd class destroyers to public view. Max Hirsch of Kyodo tells the story:

The Taiwanese military, in unusually open yet bold naval exercises Wednesday, invited foreign and domestic media for the first time on board a Kidd-class destroyer to observe drills aimed at countering China’s navy in the Taiwan Strait

Its flight deck thronged with reporters, the destroyer — accompanied by three frigates, a submarine, and other vessels and aircraft — cruised 54km east of Taiwan toward China, to stage a live-fire drill and anti-submarine maneuvers.

“The media had never boarded our Kidd-class destroyers before today,” said military spokesman, Lt.-Col. Ben Wang, on Wednesday. “This is to let the public know that the destroyers are capable of fighting.”

Taiwan purchased four Kidd-class destroyers from the United States as part of an arms deal that Washington had offered to the island in 2001. Two of the destroyers were delivered to Taipei in 2005 and two last year amid rival China’s military rise.

Though manufactured in the mid-1970s, the U.S.-made, 563-foot destroyers are now the centerpiece of Taiwan’s navy, boasting more power and sophisticated weapons systems than those of China’s naval warships.

“We can’t compete with China in terms of quantity,” said Rear Admiral Liu Chih-chien while speaking to the press on board the destroyer, referring to China’s growing fleet of indigenous and Russian-made navy vessels.

“But we can compete in terms of quality,” Liu said. “We’re confident that we’re stronger than China.”

Meanwhile IHT reports that France is considering selling weapons to Pakistan, weapons it has also sold to Taiwan…which means that the Chinese will be getting their hands on them:

Pakistan is seeking to buy missiles and radar from France for a fighter plane that it is developing jointly with China, according to the respected defense publication, Jane’s. Experts say such a sale would carry a risk of the technology falling into Chinese hands, circumventing a European arms embargo on China.

Pakistan is talking to France about getting air-to-air missiles from the MBDA company and radars from Thales for its JF-17 fighter, Jane’s Defense Weekly said.

Those missiles and similar radars also equip Taiwan’s French-built Mirage fighters, defenses that could be compromised if Pakistan transfers the technology to China, according to Jane’s.

If Pakistan lets Chinese engineers look at the technology, as reports say it did with U.S. military equipment in the past, then such a sale would also circumvent an EU ban on arms sales to China that has been in place since the Chinese military crushed pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Experts say that embargo is increasingly porous and France has previously lobbied for it to be lifted.

Great work, France.