The backlog of US weapons that have been sold but not delivered to Taiwan is a hot topic, impacting policy debates related to the defense industrial base, support for Ukraine and Israel, and strategic prioritization.
Taiwan is waiting on roughly $19 billion worth of weapons that the US has sold but not delivered yet. While the price tag of the backlog is frustrating, Taiwan must also wait longer than other US arms sale recipients for the same capabilities.
To illustrate this problem, I searched the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) list of major arms sales for three platforms: the HIMARS rocket launcher, F‑16V and F‑16 Block 70 (the Block 70 is a “new‐build equivalent” to the V) fighter aircraft, and the Abrams tank. Taiwan and other countries are waiting to receive these weapons, allowing for an apples‐to‐apples comparison of delivery timelines.
After creating a list of all DSCA announcements for these capabilities, I searched for information on when the weapons would be delivered to the recipient, prioritizing official government announcements or news sources that quoted government officials, and sources that cited information from the arms sale contract.
To keep the comparison consistent, I removed weapons from the original list if I could only find the date of initial delivery but not complete delivery, and instances that had no delivery timeline because of how recently the arms sale was announced. Additionally, I did not include sales of equipment to upgrade existing platforms to a newer variant to focus the comparison on newly built capabilities.
After editing the data, I calculated the time between DSCA’s announcement of the arms sale and final delivery of the weapons. Then I compared the average delivery time to Taiwan against other recipients grouped by region (Europe, Middle East, etc.). Taiwan had the longest average wait time for HIMARS and Abrams, and the second longest wait time for the F‑16.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) is a truck‐mounted rocket launcher capable of firing several different types of guided rockets and missiles. HIMARS is a particularly valuable weapon for Taiwan because of its mobility, which makes it harder to locate and destroy. Washington has transferred 39 HIMARS launchers to Ukraine as of December 2023, providing Kyiv with the ability to strike valuable Russian targets behind the front lines such as command posts, logistics hubs, and aircraft.
Ukraine’s successful use of HIMARS has led to a surge in foreign interest and arms sales. Lockheed Martin, the system’s manufacturer, announced early last year that it would expand production to keep up with demand.
The DSCA announced an initial possible sale of 11 HIMARS launchers to Taiwan in 2020. In 2022, Taipei added 18 more launchers for a total of 29. The first order is scheduled to complete delivery in 2025, while the second will arrive in 2026, for an average wait time of 4.5 years. Compared to other regions, Taiwan has the longest average wait time for HIMARS. European recipients have an average wait time of 3.6 years, while recipients in the Indo‐Pacific and Middle East are waiting for 4 and 3 years, respectively.
Of the three weapons platforms, however, HIMARS does come with the largest outlier: Poland. The DSCA arms sales announcements contain three sales to Poland with the earliest from 2017. Poland received its first HIMARS shipment in 2023, which would significantly increase the average European wait time. However, Poland is also pursuing servicing and co‐production agreements, which could shorten the timeline of future deliveries while lengthening the wait for initial delivery. Additionally, Warsaw has ordered significantly more launchers and ammunition than other recipients. For these reasons, and the absence of a clear final delivery date, Poland is not included in the dataset.
The F‑16V, also known as the F‑16 Block 70, is the latest variant of the F‑16 that first flew in 1974. Taiwan operates just shy of 150 older variants of the F‑16 already. Taiwan’s purchase of 66 aircraft is the largest sale by a wide margin—the next biggest is 25 aircraft for Morocco. I did not include any US sales of equipment to upgrade older F‑16 models to the V standard, only new production aircraft. Additionally, I excluded sales of different variants of the F‑16.
DSCA posted Taiwan’s F‑16 Block 70 sale announcement in August 2019 and final delivery of the aircraft is expected in 2026, making for a seven‐year waiting period. Bulgaria and Slovakia have an average wait period of six years, while Bahrain and Morocco have an eight‐year gap between announcement and final delivery.
Regardless of the variant, purchasing more F‑16s is not an effective use of Taiwan’s limited defense spending. Manned fighter aircraft are both more expensive to acquire and maintain than unmanned systems, and both the F‑16 and the air bases that support its operations will be easy targets for China’s large missile and air forces.
While the United States has announced multiple sales of Abrams tank upgrade kits, ammunition, and spare parts, according to DSCA’s major announcements, there are only four sales that meet my criteria for inclusion. As with F‑16s, I do not include sales of upgrade kits or logistics support as these would not make for an accurate comparison of delivery timelines for fully built tanks.
A November 2023 sale of tanks to Romania is excluded because there is no accurate information on that sale’s delivery timeline given how recently it was announced. I excluded an April 2021 Abrams sale to Australia because it was unclear when delivery would be completed, though deliveries should begin this year. I also excluded a December 2022 sale of 116 tanks to Poland because it was unclear when delivery would be completed despite widespread press coverage of a first batch delivered in summer 2023.
The three Abrams sales in my dataset are an August 2016 sale to Saudi Arabia, a February 2022 sale to Poland, and Taiwan’s July 2019 sale for 108 tanks. Taiwan has the longest waiting period of the three. Taiwan is scheduled to receive its last tank in 2026—a seven‐year gap between announcement and delivery—while Poland only needs to wait four years. Saudi Arabia received final delivery of their Abrams order five years after DSCA announced the sale.
Abrams tanks are more useful for Taiwan’s self‐defense than F‑16s—tanks are especially useful for attacking amphibious forces coming ashore—but they are still a traditional capability with a high price tag and large logistics footprint. Once the final delivery of the Abrams is complete in 2026, Taiwan’s military will hopefully focus its resources on expanding its stock of asymmetric capabilities, especially those that can target China’s amphibious forces at longer ranges.