Taiwan or the Republic of China has a longstanding conflict
with mainland China that stems from persisting territorial claims and political legitimacy issues. Nevertheless, considering its small geophysical footprint that neighbors its main geopolitical adversary, it has built impressive military capabilities which are considered one of the most advanced and well-equipped in Southeast Asia and the entire Asia-Pacific region.
Explaining the Military Strength of Taiwan: Key Notes on the Capabilities of the Republic of China Armed Forces or Taiwanese Armed Forces
Military Budget and International Assistance
Taiwan directs a relevant portion of its national budget to its so-called defense budget which comprises all of its military expenditures. Take note that its published defense budget from 1996 to 1999 represented more than 3 percent of its gross domestic product or GDP
while its defense budget beginning in 2008 represented more than 2 percent of its GDP.
However, despite this apparent decline in GDP share, its budget has actually increased over the most recent years. For example, in 1999, it allocated USD 8.89 billion for its military expenditures, and in 2008, it allocated USD 10.9 billion. Its budget increased to 13.1 billion in 2020 and significantly further to 19.5 billion in 2023.
The published defense budget of Taiwan excludes both the classified budget and special funds allocated by its Executive Yuan or the executive branch of its government. These funds are either excess of the national budget or are predefined for special expenditures under the discretion of the Executive Yuan and with the approval of the Legislative Yuan.
Nevertheless, as far as spending is concerned, the entire defense budget is spent on operational costs, acquisition of homegrown precision missiles, high-performance naval ships, and weapons systems for existing warships. The country has also been building further its Air Force and expanding its aerial capabilities through the acquisition of fighter planes.
It is also important to underscore the fact that it receives financial assistance from other countries. The U.S. has pledged annual foreign military financing that is worth billions of dollars. The local defense industry has also received financial resources and other relevant technical resources from foreign defense corporations.
Part of the military capabilities of Taiwan is its partnerships with the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. is committed to the defense of Taiwan as supported by the Taiwan Relations Act. The Coalition Defense of Taiwan has also studied alternative strategies aimed at deterring aggression from mainland China or defeating actual Chinese aggressors.
The Taiwan Relations Act obliges the U.S. to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons and services to maintain its self-defense capabilities. Furthermore, through this federal law, military exercises between the two countries have been conducted. The U.S. has no mutual defense treaty with Taiwan but has committed to maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait.
Weapons Acquisition and Local Defense Industry
The United States is the main supplier of weapons and other military equipment of Taiwan, and defense companies Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies are the principal contract of the sale. The Taiwanese Armed Forces also acquire weapons from defense companies and government entities in the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands.
It has also made significant acquisitions aimed at improving its naval and aerial capabilities to expand further its offshore defense. This strategic pivot is aimed at reducing civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure in the event of an armed conflict that involves a land invasion. Some of these acquisitions include naval weapons systems and aerial fleets.
Taiwan also has a homegrown and capable defense industry that serves as one of the main suppliers of weapons and defense platforms of the Taiwanese Armed Forces. The industry is composed of the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, the Armaments Bureau, and the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation.
Note that the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology is a state-owned corporation that serves as a military research and development (R&D) and systems integration center. It is specifically involved in developing, manufacturing, and selling technology and weapons, including weapons systems and subsystems.
The Armaments Bureau affiliated authority of the Ministry of National Defense. It is responsible for developing, procuring, and maintaining military equipment and weapons systems. Some of its notable products include light weapons such as the T65 assault rifle, T75 Light machine gun, T86 assault rifle, T91 assault rifle, and T75 pistol.
Another state-owned corporation is the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation which manufactures and services aircraft and related components. It has succeeded in developing the multirole combat aircraft called the Indigenous Defense Fighter or the F-CK-1 Ching-Kuo after the U.S. refused to sell F-20 Tigershark and F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Composition and Capabilities of the Taiwanese Armed Forces
The Republic of China Armed Forces or Taiwanese Armed Forces is at the heart of the military capabilities of Taiwan. It is composed of five service branches. These are the Republic of China Army or Taiwanese Army, the Republic of China Navy or Taiwan Navy, the Republic of China Airforce or Taiwan Airforce, and the Military Police Forces.
Details about the exact composition and size of the Taiwanese Armed Forces are impossible to provide. However, based on a wide range of published sources, the entire military capabilities of the country or its military strength are similar to the defensive and offensive capabilities of countries such as Poland, Canada, and Vietnam.
There are about 290000 active-service personnel in the entire Armed Forces. This is a significant manpower. For example, as a comparison to other countries with notable geopolitical influence, the Armed Forces of Ukraine
has about 190000 active-service personnel while the Canadian Armed Forces has about 68000 active-service personnel.
Note that the Army remains the largest branch of the entire Armed Forces with around 130000. It is equipped with modern weapons and equipment, including modern weapons and equipment, including tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery. This branch has been reorganized into smaller units as a quick deployment mobile troops to optimize response and functions.
The Taiwan Navy has over 35000 active-service personnel and is equipped with a fleet of warships, including frigates, destroyers, and corvettes that can conduct counter-strike and counter-invasion operations during a conflict. It specifically has 4 submarines, about 100 patrol boats, 30 mine warfare ships, and 25 amphibious vessels.
Furthermore, the Navy is equipped with anti-ship missiles, such as the Hsiung Feng 3, and a naval surface-to-air missile, the Sea Sword 2. It is further developing new naval capabilities including corvettes for coastal patrol and anti-submarine warfare, and new submarines and surface combatants, including a new class of guided-missile frigates.
Another critical component of the overall military capabilities of Taiwan is the Taiwan Airforce. It has over 36000 active-service personnel and is equipped with modern combat aircraft, including F-16s, Mirage 2000s, and Indigenous Defense Fighters. This branch also controls a missile defense system that can intercept incoming missiles.
Taiwan has also invested heavily in cyber warfare capabilities to defend against cyberattacks. Its specific cyber capability development program follows the United States model. The county has built organizational structures for offensive cyber capabilities over the years, and its cyberespionage capabilities could helo in countering disruptive attacks.