Vol. 1 Issue 9
Global Taiwan Brief — Vol. 1, Issue 9
Political Warfare Alert: Reframing Sun Yat-sen in the CCP’s Political Narrative
By: Russell Hsiao
A Model for Taiwan’s Arms Exports
By: David An
Military Politics Under President Tsai Ing-wen
By: Eric Hundman
Taiwan’s DARPA: Technology Disrupter or Pork Barrel?
By Fu S. Mei
Political Warfare Alert: Reframing Sun Yat-sen in the CCP’s Political Narrative
Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute and Chief Editor of the Global Taiwan Brief.
The founder of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and Republic of China (ROC), Sun Yat-sen (孫中山; b. 1866), revered in Taiwan as the “Father of the Country” (國父) would have turned 150 on November 12. Every year in Taipei and in Beijing—the capitals of Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), respectively—political leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait organize events commemorating Sun’s legacy around his birthday. This year was no exception. In an unprecedented move, however, Beijing rolled out the red carpet for the “revolutionary hero” in a high-powered ceremony attended by senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres, which also included participation by retired senior military officers from Taiwan.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders view Sun not as the “Father of the Country” but as a leader who united the Chinese people in extraordinary times to resist and overthrow imperialism. Unlike previous events commemorating Sun’s life organized at the central level that were hosted by the advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and customarily held at the Zhongshan Hall in Beijing’s Zhongshan Park (e.g. birthday years 149, 148, 147, 146, 145), this year’s magisterial ceremony took place at the Great Hall of the People (人民大會堂)—a venue reserved for high-level legislative and ceremonial activities organized by the party-state.
The official ceremony, held on November 11, was attended by six out of seven members of the powerful CCP Politburo Standing Committee: Xi Jinping (習近平), Li Keqiang (李克強), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲), Liu Yunshan (劉云山), Wang Qishan (王岐山), and Zhang Gaoli (張高麗). Leaders waxed lyrical about Sun’s legacy and hoisted him up as a symbol of Chinese unity. In a speech that was around 6,100 characters long, CCP General Secretary and PRC President Xi Jinping boldly proclaimed that “CCP members are the firmest supporters, most loyal collaborators, and most faithful successors of Mr. Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary undertakings” (中國共產黨人是孫中山先生革命事業最堅定的支持者、最忠誠的合作者、最忠實的繼承者). Not hiding the purpose of his speech, Xi again re-emphasized that the so-called “1992 Consensus” must be the political foundation for cross-Strait dialogue, and furthermore asserted that, “we [CCP] will never allow anyone, any organization, any party to split off any tract of territory from China anytime, or in any way” (任何組織、任何政黨、在任何時候、以任何形式、把任何一塊中國領土從中國分裂出去).
The CCP’s recognition of Sun’s role in Chinese history does not represent anything dramatically groundbreaking per se—he was always respected as an important revolutionary figure. Yet, the concerted use of Sun’s legacy as a symbol to promote unification at the state level reflects a deepening of the CCP’s effort to reframe the KMT in its political narrative, underway since at least 2010. The elevated status of what had largely been a small yet formal event to a high-powered official rite unsurprisingly coincides with the election of a new government on Taiwan and has corresponded with an uptick in Chinese political warfare activities targeting retired Taiwanese military officers in Taiwan and also in the United States. Interestingly, this year’s politically charged ceremony was reportedly attended by over 32 retired military officers from the Taiwan (ROC) military, including former Deputy Commander of the ROC Army Lieutenant General Wu Si-huai (吳斯懷).
Lieutenant General Wu (b. 1952) served as Deputy Commander of the ROC Army from January to August 2011. After he retired from military service in 2011, he served as the Deputy Secretary General of Taiwan’s Red Cross Society (中華民國紅十字會) and vice president of the ROC Army Academy Alumni Association (陸軍官校校友總會副會長). Wu has been a regular participant in an annual cross-Strait dialogue called the “Zhongshan, Whampoa, and Cross-Strait Friendship” dialogue (「中山‧黃埔‧兩岸情」論壇), started in 2010 by the PRC’s Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang Central Committee (中國國民黨革命委員會) and the Whampoa Military Academy Alumni Association (黃埔軍校同學會). The first of these annual events was held in Taipei in 2010, during the previous Ma administration.
Wu reportedly attended previous dialogues that were held in Wuhan and Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This year’s annual conclave was held in Beijing on November 10, just a day before the official ceremony. Around 50 retired military officers from Taiwan reportedly attended the dialogue. Notable participants reportedly included Taiwan’s explicitly pro-unification New Revolutionary Alliance (新同盟會) President and retired General Hsu Li-nong (許歷農), former Presidential Military Strategy Advisor and retired Lieutenant General Cao Wen-sheng (曹文生), former Deputy Defense Minister and retired Lieutenant General Wang Wen-xie (王文燮), former Air Force Commander and Lieutenant General Shen Guo-zhen (沈國禎), former head of the National Defense University and retired Lieutenant General Xia Yingzhou (夏瀛洲), former Commander of the Army and retired Lieutenant General Chen Ting-chong (陳廷寵), former Presidential Military Strategy Advisor and retired Lieutenant General Zhou Zhong-nan (周仲南), and Taiwan New Party Chairman Yu Muming （鬱慕明）, among others. Participants from the PRC reportedly included Revolutionary Committee Vice Chairman Liu Fan (劉凡) , CCP Central Committee’s United Front Work Department Deputy Director Lin Zhimin (林智敏), State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office Deputy Director Long Mingbiao (龍明彪), and Revolutionary Committee Vice Chairman Zheng Jianbang (鄭建邦), among others.
In response to interrogatories at the Legislative Yuan—Taiwan’s parliament—about the senior retired military officers attending official functions in the PRC, the Deputy Director of the National Security Bureau’s (NSB) Third Department, which is responsible for security intelligence covering the Taiwan area, Lai Yun-cheng (賴蘊誠) reported that the delegation included 32 retired senior military officers, which included 5 generals, 11 lieutenant generals, and 16 major generals. The generals who attended the ceremony reportedly included Hsu Li-nong, Cao Wen-sheng, Wang Wen-xie, Shen Guo-zhen , and Zhou Zhong-nan (although there are conflicting accounts about who actually attended the official ceremony).
At the National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei—senior leaders of Taiwan’s KMT attended an exhibit commemorating the life of the founder of the KMT and ROC. When asked by media for a response to Xi’s statement that the CCP is the “most faithful successors of Mr. Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionary undertakings,” KMT Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) scoffed: “There is no question that the KMT is the true heir of Sun.” The KMT Chairwoman recently met with General Secretary Xi during a visit to the PRC. Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who also attended the exhibit, added: “It is very different in that the CCP sees Sun as a ‘forerunner of the democratic revolution’ while we [Taiwan] regard Sun as the founder of the ROC.”
While the government channels between Taipei and Beijing remain cool after the CCP froze communications with the Democratic Progressive Party administration, Beijing appears to be pulling out all the stops to utilize retired military officers, pro-unification factions within the KMT, and other pro-China groups as its primary interlocutors with Taiwan. Whether this strategy will work to win the hearts and mind of Taiwanese people remains to be seen. In light of Taiwan’s presidential election, in which voters on the island voiced their concerns over the pace and scope of relations with the PRC, this strategy will likely gain little traction or perhaps even backfire.
The main point: The elevated status of Sun Yat-sen’s legacy as a symbol to promote unification at the state-level reflects a deepening of CCP’s effort to reframe the KMT in its political narrative. In particular, the use of Sun as a symbol for national unification unsurprisingly coincides with the election of a new government on Taiwan that has corresponded with an uptick in political warfare activities.
A Model for Taiwan’s Arms Exports
David An is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute. He was previously a Political-Military Affairs Officer at the US State Department.
Taiwan arms sales—the term evokes images of the US selling advanced missiles, helicopters, fighter aircraft, military components and other defense articles to Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. Soon, it will mean something completely different, as Taiwan plans to develop its own indigenous defense industry, which would involve selling military equipment abroad to other countries as a boost to its domestic economy and in order to to create jobs. In doing so, Taipei should explore a range of different defense-industrial business models across a variety of countries, and develop a system that best fits the unique characteristics of Taiwan’s domestic economy.
Taiwan is prioritizing development of its defense industry as part of its new economic strategy. On October 10, President Tsai re-emphasized her plan to revitalize Taiwan’s economy through five innovative industries in her Taiwan National Day speech. These five industries are: biotechnology, green technology, smart machinery, the internet of things, and national defense.
The defense export industry represents an enormous business opportunity, and Taiwan is following a strong regional precedent in making this decision. Taiwan is the last of its fellow “Asian Tigers”—South Korea, Singapore, and Japan—to move in this direction. For instance, South Korea’s defense exports totaled over US $3 billion in 2015. Although US $3 billion is only 0.2 percent of Korea’s economy, if Taiwan can gain US $3 billion in annual revenue from arms sales it would comprise nearly 1 percent of Taiwan’s entire GDP. Even Singapore exports around $80 million a year in military equipment, such as armored personnel carriers to Afghanistan and Thailand, making it the world’s 20th largest arms exporter in 2013. With this in mind, in 2014 Japan began reforms to its Three Principles on Arms Exports policy, replacing it with the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, in order to allow arms sales under certain conditions. In addition, major powers such as the United States, Russia, and China rely on arms sales as a significant source of revenue.
The politically safest way to grow Taiwan’s high-tech defense industry is to supply key components to platforms manufactured by the United States and NATO+4 countries (NATO European members plus Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand). Platforms differ from components since platforms are standalone systems that are made up of components. Taiwan already provides components for foreign military platforms, for example Taiwan’s Hung Shen Propeller Company manufactures propellers for British minesweepers. However, for Taiwan’s other industries, such as its electronics industry, to become part of the US and other countries’ weapons platforms, these companies need to join the DoD Trusted Foundry program, which is a grouping of 52 trusted suppliers to the US military and government. Supplying parts to a foreign military platform allows Taiwan to lower its international exposure to public opinion, since its name is not branded on the weapon system, and therefore to distance itself from the possible international repercussions of arms exports.
If Taiwan decides to manufacture entire military platforms for export, such as tanks and naval vessels, the best model for Taiwan to follow is the prime contractor or subcontractor model. Taiwan will need to carefully calculate and account for the reaction of China and its other neighbors in the region; it should also consult with the United States as it moves forward, because the geopolitical implications of arms sales are serious. The prime contractor/subcontractor model best takes into account how Taiwan’s economy and business environment are mainly composed of small and middle sized companies. In this model, the government can award a contract for a weapon system to one company as prime contractor, and that company would line up other companies as subcontractors to manufacture components that are then assembled into a complete system, resulting in a division of labor, tasks and items. These same complete platforms (containing only Taiwan’s own intellectual property) could be exported to other countries for profit. This is how the major US defense companies such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and others operate, and it fits with Taiwan’s business landscape, which is different from that of Korea or Japan, both of which feature large business conglomerates with many international enterprises.
The drawback of following the prime contractor/subcontractor model is the possibility of soaring costs. When one company relies on other companies to piece together complex weapons systems, each side will build profits into their calculations, which could drastically raise the total price. This does not happen when a company enjoys a vertical monopoly over an entire manufacturing process. In addition, a subcontractor might not provide its items on time, which could delay the overall program. Engineers, fabrication teams, and assembly teams will still be paid for the longer time that passes before the weapon platform is completely assembled. However, Taiwan could keep prices of weapons platforms low if it implemented tight government oversight over the prime contractor, and close prime contractor oversight over subcontractors, to ensure there are as little extraneous labor hours or materials as necessary.
Another consideration in the prime contractor/subcontractor model is the need for a new information infrastructure for sharing classified information. Prime contractors would need to share sensitive and classified military equipment designs with subcontractors. These designs are by nature sensitive, because an adversary could learn about a system’s vulnerabilities if it had access to its designs. Protecting this information would involve setting up an air gapped network, completely separated from the public internet, similar to the SIPRnet system used by the US government and shared with US defense companies and defense think tanks.
Furthermore, there are some items that do not make sense for Taiwan to manufacture on its own. The technology may be too advanced and therefore out of reach of Taiwan’s current technological capabilities, or because, while Taiwan is technologically capable of producing them, it may be cheaper to buy these items commercially, off-the-shelf. For the advanced items, one approach would be for Taiwan to partner with foreign defense companies to integrate foreign, pre-existing technology into Taiwan’s platforms;or, as mentioned earlier, Taiwan’s companies could become a subcontractor and integrate Taiwan’s unique technologies into foreign platforms. Taiwan would economically benefit either way.
The prospects are bright for Taiwan to grow its defense industry and improve its economy through arms sales, just like its neighbors South Korea, Japan, Singapore and others have done. This is a pivotal moment for the Tsai Administration to do so, as it moves forward with its new economic plans. In this article, I have proposed a defense-industrial model that fits with Taiwan’s economy, but further analysis will be needed on exactly which defense items Taiwan is able to export now, and what new defense equipment and technologies is Taiwan well positioned to produce in the future? Who will be Taiwan’s buyers, and what are the geopolitics that Taiwan will have to navigate? These are the questions to be explored in future articles.
The main point: As Taiwan develops its arms export industry, it should consider a variety of business models, but my findings indicate that the prime contractor/subcontractor model fits Taiwan’s arms industry since it takes advantage of small and medium sized businesses that make up Taiwan’s business landscape.
Military Politics Under President Tsai Ing-wen
Dr. Eric Hundman is a Postdoctoral Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy and International Security at Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding.
The historic return to power of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in January 2016 has brought Taiwan’s democracy back into international news to a degree not seen since the Sunflower Movement protests in 2014. However, little of the reporting on Taiwan directly examines one especially crucial aspect of Taiwan’s democracy: civil-military relations. Especially given the severe military threat China poses to Taiwan, the political dynamics of Taiwan’s military merit special attention. Though data on active-duty soldiers’ political views in Taiwan is hard to come by, available sources indicate that, while demographic changes in the Republic of China Armed Forces (中華民國國軍) might lead observers to expect more soldiers to support President Tsai and the DPP, limitations on this support likely persist.
Understanding Taiwan’s contemporary military politics requires a grasp of Taiwan’s strategic position, which has deteriorated in the 20 years since the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995-1996. In China, the People’s Liberation Army has embarked on a massive program of modernization and restructuring as the economy has rocketed forward to become the second-largest in the world. In Taiwan, democracy has been consolidated, defense spending has languished, and trade with China has come to dominate the economy. Some in the United States have called for Washington to reconsider its longstanding commitment to ensuring a peaceful settlement of the dispute between China and Taiwan, and Taiwan has not yet been able to acquire the new fighter jets and submarines it wants in order to maintain a credible defensive force. Debate thus rages in Taiwan about how best to structure its relationship with China, although defense issues, oddly, remain of relatively low salience. Concomitant with these changes, military politics in Taiwan have become increasingly fraught in recent years. Two current debates offer especially useful insight into the political dynamics of Taiwan’s military today: the military’s public opinion problem and the switch from conscription to a volunteer military recruitment system.
The Military’s Image Problem
Negative views of the military are widespread in Taiwan today and create a variety of concrete problems. For example, one locality has resisted serving as the site for crucial military exercises; other local governments are allegedly forcing soldiers to perform free manual labor, military academies and recruiters are hard pressed to attract enough people to meet their targets, military authorities were widely seen as incapable of dealing objectively with a recruit’s death during his training, and negative stories about the military are widely circulated. Compulsory military service has come to be widely seen as a “waste of life and time” (生命和時間的浪費), due at least in part to the poor quality of training and service assignments that have often been seen as worthless.
Taiwanese soldiers thus, by many accounts, feel “neglected” (漠視) by the society they are working to protect. Such alienation can be dangerous, especially in the face of a Chinese threat that is serious but not necessarily immediate: without a compelling reason to commit to the military mission, dangerous accidents become more likely and secrets become harder to secure. Worse for Taiwan, these kinds of problems have led to US officials and analysts questioning Taiwan’s commitment to its own defense. President Tsai recognizes the dangers of the military’s image problem; she has repeatedly emphasized that she will pursue the “drastic” reforms of Taiwan’s military needed to restore its “glory” (光榮).
Volunteer versus Conscript Recruitment
One major military reform is in fact already in progress: former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) initiated a shift from Taiwan’s longstanding conscription system (徵兵制) to a volunteer system (募兵制), a change that he portrayed as aimed at professionalizing and improving the image of Taiwan’s military. In this, the program has not seen much success—recruiters struggle to meet their target numbers and the deadline for completion of the shift to an all-volunteer force has been pushed back repeatedly. Even if the program’s numerical goals had been met, however, the links between volunteer recruitment per se on the one hand and professionalization and approval of the military on the other were never as strong as the Ma administration portrayed them to be. Conscription-based militaries like those of Israel and Singapore, for instance, are both broadly admired for their professionalism and skill.
Moves toward an all-volunteer military have, however, affected the social composition of Taiwan’s military, with potentially important consequences for the military’s political dynamics. Those joining the Taiwanese military as volunteers are disproportionately likely to be of aboriginal (non-Han; 原住民) descent, to have been born outside of Taipei, and to have completed a lower level of education—in other words, “the relationship between the economic environment and recruitment is obvious” (經濟環境跟招募成果有明顯的關係). Aboriginal voters appear to have been swinging towards the DPP in recent years, the DPP has traditionally been strongest in the regions outside Taipei, and in pre-election polls voters trusted Tsai and the DPP more than the KMT to manage the economy by a wide margin—some recent trends, at least, thus point to the military becoming more supportive of a DPP president like Tsai.
Prospects for Civil-Military Relations under Tsai Ying-wen
Historically, though, Taiwan’s military has been closely tied to the KMT, and President Tsai, perhaps fearing weak military support, has made an unusual number of visits to military institutions in her first several months as president. She has also shown a strong rhetorical commitment to supporting the military and improving its public image, even as she faces criticism for not yet offering many substantive, concrete policy suggestions.
Nonetheless, Tsai may have some room to maneuver, because even though feelings about today’s military in Taiwan are broadly negative, any portrayal of the Taiwanese as uncaring about their own defense is not entirely accurate. An Academia Sinica poll conducted in early 2015, for example (reported widely in Taiwan), found that a strong majority of Taiwanese—especially young Taiwanese—supported “reinstating” (恢復) a conscription military system, a finding which contradicts both analysts’ claims that conscription as such is “unpopular” and the KMT belief that shifting to an all-volunteer force was politically advantageous for them.
A more detailed analysis of this poll does not yet appear to have been released as promised, but the reasons it diverges so strongly from the conventional wisdom about support for Taiwan’s military merit further study. Perhaps Taiwanese think a conscript force is likely to be fairer, better trained, more effective, or less expensive—the same poll showed most Taiwanese oppose raising taxes to better fund the military. Or perhaps support for a conscription system is tied up in the growing sense of Taiwanese identity in combination with the Chinese Communist Party’s increasingly aggressive stance. As the US debates its role in the Taiwan Strait and President Tsai works to shore up Taiwan’s defenses, closer attention to the dynamics of Taiwan’s civil-military relations will be crucial.
The main point: Contemporary military politics in Taiwan are affected by two trends: persistent negative views of the military and the move to an all-volunteer military that is changing its social composition.
 Robert S. Ross, “Navigating the Taiwan Strait: Deterrence, Escalation Dominance, and U.S.-China Relations,” International Security 27, no. 2 (October 1, 2002): 48–85. See, e.g., Charles L. Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand Bargain? The Hard Choice between Military Competition and Accommodation,” International Security 39, no. 4 (2015): 49–90; Shyu-Tee Lee, Douglas Paal, and Charles Glaser, “Disengaging from Taiwan: Should Washington Continue Its Alliance with Taipei?” Foreign Affairs 90 (2011): 179.
 See, e.g., Sergio Catignani, “Motivating Soldiers: The Example of the Israeli Defense Forces,” Parameters 34, no. 3 (Autumn 2004), pp. 108-121.
See, e.g., Tan Tai Yong, “The Armed Forces and Politics in Singapore,” in Marcus Mietzner, ed., The Political Resurgence of the Military in Southeast Asia: Conflict and Leadership (New York, NY: Routledge, 2013), pp. 148-166.
This finding has found anecdotal support in online discussions about returning to a conscription system.
Taiwan’s DARPA: Technology Disrupter or Pork Barrel?
Fu S. Mei is the Director at Taiwan Security Analysis Center (Manhasset, New York).
On October 11, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced plans to establish a Taiwanese version of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The first step in this plan is to increase staff for the existing Technology Planning Division, under the MND’s Department of Resources (資源司科技企劃處), starting in January 2017. This would eventually be upgraded to an independent Defense Technology Development Office (DTDO, 國防科技發展室), reporting directly to the Defense Minister.
The DTDO will reportedly be headed by a civilian director (with a doctorate degree), and a one-star general officer billet deputy director. The office will be staffed by 23 program managers, recruited from outside of the military establishment, beginning in October 2017, and compensation will be competitive with the commercial sector. These expert project managers will have three-year contracts, presumably so as to help mimic the culture of urgency DARPA fosters, in order to achieve results in the relatively short (three-five year) stints given to program leaders.
The MND envisions an annual budget for the DTDO of NT$3 billion (US $100 million), corresponding to roughly 1 percent of Taiwan’s current yearly defense spending. By comparison, DARPA’s budget (US $2.87 billion) accounts for only about 0.5 percent of US defense spending in FY2016.
The stated mission of the DTDO, as announced by the MND, is to:
- Direct the management of defense technology
- Review and oversee NCSIST (National Chung Shan Institute of Science & Technology, 國家中山科學研究院) research and development (R&D) projects
- Bring together scientific research capabilities from the civilian sector
- Establish a (presumably centralized) platform for information dissemination and exchange
- Implement collaborative efforts with industry and academia
- Develop dual-use technologies
- Oversee special projects and R&D challenges
- Review defense-related R&D budgets through cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA):
- Upgrade autonomous defense industry R&D capabilities
- Industrialize mature defense technologies
The Taiwanese DARPA will feature a “top-down, requirements-driven, objective-oriented” approach to defense research and development (R&D). To highlight the importance of asymmetrical capabilities, DTDO would direct at least 40 percent of its R&D resources toward so-called “disruptive innovations.” Policy guidance for defense technology and industry will be coordinated by a “Defense Technology Industry Development Promotion Committee,” (國防科技產業發展推行委員會), to be jointly chaired by the Ministers of National Defense, Economic Affairs, and Technology.
On October 23rd, the director of the MND’s Resources Department offered some additional justifications for the DTDO by asserting that:
- Innovation does not require substantial funding or organizations
- Outsourcing of R&D (to the civilian sector) would not require investment in laboratory facilities, but could encourage innovation
- Technological competition could harness technology from the civilian sector
- Better synchronization of industrialization with R&D projects could produce improved returns on R&D investments
- Transparent, open competition would foster technological innovation
In a report to the Legislative Yuan (LY)—Taiwan’s parliament—the MND stated that the plan is to have the DTDO up and operational by January 2018, if the trial period proves successful. Although the MND did not specify an official trial period, from Minister Feng’s verbal response to lawmakers, it may be inferred that the year 2017 would effectively serve as a trial period for the proposed DTDO roadmap.
Issues and Questions
The DTDO concept appears well-intentioned and is clearly in line with the Tsai Administration’s agenda of harnessing the enormous resources Taiwan invests in its defense industry to serve as a pillar of economic revitalization. Indeed, the DPP government has begun developing a comprehensive defense industry policy, having created a defense industry development working group in June of this year (2016), and could announce related strategy, priorities and guidelines by sometime next year.
Taiwan’s defense industry could also benefit from an R&D tsar, empowered to harness the island’s enormous scientific, technological, and industrial capacities.
During a DPP-sponsored defense industry forum in Washington, DC, in October 2015, experts advocated for a more centralized, efficient, and impartial organization with intra-agency purview to build a viable, sustainable, indigenous defense-industrial base. The DTDO appears to be the Tsai Administration’s solution to this suggestion.
The DTDO’s parallels with DARPA, however, may be a bit hazier. Created in the midst of the Cold War to ensure US technological leadership in the defense sector, DARPA’s key mission is not driven by immediate operational requirements. Transformational advances, rather than incremental improvements, are the goal for an agency like DARPA. In Taiwan’s case, the military often has difficulty acquiring the equipment and capabilities needed to meet requirements posed by present or near-term threats. It is, therefore, questionable whether the creation of an agency with a truly DARPA-like mandate can address the challenges at hand for Taiwan.
Nor is it a core function of DARPA to coordinate resources with private sector industry, since many of the research projects DARPA sponsors are never directly productionized. Yet, from the description provided by MND officials to date, the authoritative allocation of resources to private industry may well prove an unavoidable component of the DTDO’s eventual portfolio.
In fact, the model that the Tsai Administration wishes to pursue may be more akin to South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) than DARPA. The Korean agency oversees all defense acquisition planning (including all R&D policy and system development), defense industry promotion (both domestic and international), testing & evaluation, and project management, serving much the same role with which Taiwan’s Armament Bureau (AB, 國防部軍備局) is, in principle, already tasked.
As such, it is not surprising that the DTDO proposal immediately attracted suspicion from both sides of the political aisle. At issue is whether the DTDO would become a mechanism for centrally controlling (and allocating) the resources for domestic defense-industrial projects. There has also been criticism of possible redundant, overlapping responsibilities with other, existing organizations, such as the Armament Bureau, NCSIST, and MoEA. A number of Taiwan lawmakers and not a few media have also questioned whether the proposed Taiwanese DARPA could actually be a veiled attempt to resurrect the Taiwan Goal (鐽震) armaments company that the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) Administration tried unsuccessfully to implement in 2008. Critics also cautioned against the new agency becoming a vehicle for channeling spoils and pork. The MND has emphatically denied such allegations, citing significant differences in the nature of the mission between the DTDO and Taiwan Goal.
The extent, composition, and effectiveness of legislative and other oversights for the DTDO, and for its involvement with private industry will, therefore, play a large part in its success.
The main point: MND’s new defense technology agency offers promise, although legislative and other oversight mechanism would be necessary to ensure its success.