WASHINGTON ― A congressionally mandated commission is recommending the Pentagon train Taiwanese troops on U.S. soil to familiarize them with operating new weapons platforms the Asian nation purchased.
The bipartisan U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission made the suggestion to Congress as part of its annual report released Tuesday, but Taiwan may already have plans to send hundreds of troops to train in the United States.
Carolyn Bartholomew, the commission’s chair, told reporters the recommendation aims to ensure Taiwan is ready to use the weapons upon their receipt “so that there’s not a lag time between getting it and then taking another six months of training before it becomes operational and can be used in the field.”
“The lessons everybody is learning from what is happening in Ukraine has been that it’s really important for militaries to be trained on the advanced technology that they’re going to be getting before they actually get it, and before they need it in the field, because there’s been a terrible delay,” Bartholomew said.
The delay refers to an approximate $19 billion sales backlog of numerous weaponry that Taiwan has agreed to purchase from the U.S. but has yet to receive due to a confluence of supply chain issues, contracting and acquisition delays, and a medley of lengthy technological and security reviews within the Foreign Military Sales process.
“There’s currently training of Taiwan forces on certain weapons platforms to date,” the commission’s vice chair, Alex Wong, told Defense News, specifically citing F-16 fighter jets. “This is not unprecedented. However, there is not yet training again on the weapons systems that have yet to be delivered. Some of them would be new to the targeting forces.”
Wong said the commission’s proposal would “take the template that we already have with the F-16s, which we have delivered in the past,” and apply it to new weapons systems.
Taiwan’s estimated $8 billion purchase of 66 newer F-16 fighters comprises a significant portion of the overall arms sale backlog.
Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters in February that Taipei is sending an undisclosed number of troops to train in the U.S. on weapons systems and military operations, according to The Wall Street Journal. The U.S. also deploys a small number of troops on the island to train Taiwanese forces, something President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed in 2021.
Wang Ting-yu, a member of Taiwan’s legislature from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party who sits on a defense committee, told the BBC last week that Taiwan plans to send two battalions of ground troops to the United States. A battalion in Taiwan can consist of up to 600 troops, marking a significant increase in Taiwanese troops training in the U.S.
“The U.S. is emphasizing the desperate need to improve our military capacity. It is sending a clear message of strategic clarity to Beijing that we stand together,” Wang said.
Taiwan’s diplomatic office in Washington did not respond to Defense News’ request for comment, and the Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny plans to train Taiwanese troops on U.S. soil.
“We do not comment on specific operations, engagements or training, but I would highlight that our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Pentagon spokesman John Supple told Defense News. “Our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.”
China considers Taiwan a rogue province and has threatened to retake it by force if necessary. President Xi Jinping has set 2027 as the year China’s military would be ready for a possible operation against Taiwan.
China frequently objects to U.S.-Taiwan military ties and is particularly sensitive to actions it construes as recognizing the island as an independent state.
“Consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” Supple said.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.