Taiwan Harpoon Budget

Taiwan says new Harpoon missiles will help it crush half of Chinese invasion fleet

Taiwan says US$2.37 billion worth of Harpoon missiles would enable it to obliterate half of Chinese invasion armada

“TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s military on Oct. 27 [2020] stated that the potential sale of US$2.37 billion worth of Harpoon anti-ship missiles will within five years help enable its defenders to wipe out “half of any” People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invasion force.

On Oct. 26, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) issued a press release announcing that the U.S. State Department has given the green light to the sale of 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems (HCDS) and associated equipment for approximately US$2.37 billion. Specifically, the sale would include 100 HCDS launcher transporter units, 400 RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II Surface Launched Missiles, four RTM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II Exercise Missiles, 411 containers, 25 radar trucks, spare and repair parts, and support and test equipment, among other items.”

I would consider a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan the greatest threat facing the US military (which has the mission of preventing it in spite of the policy of strategic ambiguity). A perhaps over optimistic Taiwanese military considers the problem to be half solved at the expense of $2.37 billion for 100 land launched Harpoon missiles. The cost to the US Treasury is zero. The cost is also less than one third of one percent of the annual US defense budget.

If 100 Harpoons can get the job (roughly optimistically) half done, what could 1,000 Harpoons manage (at a cost of less than 3% of the budget. Also why was the sale not approved before 2020 ?

I draw three conclusions. First, smart munitions defeat expensive platforms (this is happening in fact in Urkaine and not just in optimistic forecast in Taiwan). Second, the potential cost of angering Xi JinPIng or something counts for more than a few hundred billion of defense spending. Third the US defense budget is much too high.

The first claim isn’t new. I have been reading the argument for over 40 years and have not heard a counterargument. There is undeniably a huge gap between the US made weapons I read about actually doing something and the weapons acquisition budget. The US budget for javelins (as featured in the current war and Trump’s first impeachment) is about $ 200 million (with an m) per year. I find no budget for Stingers or Switchblades. A Harpoon costs about as much as 1/10,000 of an aircraft carrier (what do you think are the chances of a Carrier task force against 1000 harpoons ?).

I think the key issue is that Defense spending is treated as if it is low cost (what’s a few hundred billion among friends). No one is angered (except for a few hippies). The vaguest arguments about hypothetical possible wars with near peers and of a deterrent effect unrelated to any specific actual mission are enough to convince Congress. I don’t think anyone argues that this is not based in large part on bringing home the bacon.

In contrast sending weapons to countries with powerful potential adversaries displeases the powerful potential adversaries. Increasing the defense budget is, I think, clearly perceived as a moderate response to threats (as opposed to actually fighting wars). For example from 2001 to 2003 (with first fiscal year after September 11 2001) the budget for the US Navy was increased by ove $28 billion (which was also over 28%). Was this needed because we had to fight the Afghan Navy ? I think it was decided to increase defense spending (a lot) because of 9/11 and the Navy got its normal share. This is not related to preparing for threats or preparing to accomplish missions. I think it makes sense as the combination of a political gesture by people with no particular opinions about weapons and negotiation among interest groups.

I am trying to think of another explanation for the pattern of huge spending on US forces and reluctance to sell (not give sell) weapons to Democratic countries (and provinces of the mythical Republic of China).

update: I have finally read Matthew Yglesias’s effort “Do We Need a Bigger Defense Budget” which is much better than this post. Just click the link.