September 27, 2000 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A U.S. missile sale to Taiwan includes a highly unusual condition: that they will not be turned over to the island democracy unless China threatens an attack, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday.
The arrangement is designed to meet a U.S. arms export pledge not to introduce new offensive military capabilities into Asia, where tensions between Taiwan
and China are a source of growing U.S. concern.
Taiwanese pilots will train with the missiles, designated the AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM
, at Air Force training ranges in the United States. Their F-16s will be updated with the weapon control software. "It's a way for them to train up and be ready should the threat occur, " without provoking China into accelerating its pursuit of a similar capability, said an official.
China's air-to-air missiles are far less advanced, although a Pentagon report to Congress this summer said that later this decade China is likely to field a new missile that would give its growing fleet of new-generation fighters an AMRAAM-like capability. The AMRAAM allows a fighter pilot to launch the weapon from beyond visual range of his target. It also provides a greater capability to attack low-altitude targets.