by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: US Army/Public Domain

POLITICAL CONTROVERSY has broken out about plans by the US to sell Volcano mines to Taiwan, primarily in the form of attacks on the notion by the pan-Blue camp. The proposed purchase of the Volcano mine system is for a 180 million USD arms purchase agreement.

Apart from the mine deployment system itself, the agreement includes M977A4 HEMTT 10-Ton cargo trucks that the mine deployment system will be mounted on. That the system will be truck-mounted has been touted as contributing to Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare capacities.

The US Department of State signed off on the purchase on December 28th last year. Subsequently, Congress is expected to sign off on the deal next month.

M977 HEMTT equipped with the Volcano mine dispensing system. Photo credit: US Army/Public Domain

The Volcano mine system includes anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. The Volcano mine system can deploy 960 anti-personnel/anti-tank mines in an area 1,100 meters long by 120 meters wide and it can be deployed from truck or helicopter. Although the US developed the Volcano mine systems in the 1980s, they were phased out of use by the late 1990s, and only came back into use in the 2010s. The mines were not used in America’s Middle East interventions, but South Korean forces have trained for their use against potential invaders from North Korea.

One of the criticisms has been that the Volcano mine system violates international conventions on anti-personnel landmines. The Ottawa Treaty, which was ratified by 164 of the world’s 200 or so countries as of August 2022, bans anti-personnel landmines. China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the US are countries that are not signatories of the treaty.

In particular, Taiwan places great importance on following the conventions of widely accepted international treaties–even ones that it has not signed. This is a result of Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation. Namely, Taiwan often seeks admittance to the international community through voluntarily complying with international treaties and standards when it does not have to, hoping to be seen as a good citizen that should be given greater international space rather than a rogue state.

However, the Taiwanese military has responded to such criticisms by stating that it only intends to purchase anti-tank mines, not anti-personnel mines that would contravene the Ottawa Treaty.

Another criticism, then, as dovetailing with the framing of the Volcano mine system as violating international conventions is that use of the system would lead to the entire island of Taiwan being littered with landmines, much as with Cambodia. One has seen this criticism from pan-Blue politicians such as May Chin. Other claims suggest that the mines would become an impediment for Taiwanese seeking to escape the island in the event of an invasion.

In response, Taiwanese military officials and defense experts have sought to emphasize that the mines would only be used on beaches, and would only be deployed immediately ahead of an invasion–rather than far-flung claims that the mines would be deployed haphazardly across all of Taiwan. Likewise, the mines would be deployed in specific areas where tanks are expected to land, and would be visible with the naked eye, as they are not concealed mines.

Volcano mine dispensing system equipped on a UH-60 Blackhawk. Photo credit: US Army/Public Domain.

This would not be the first time that the pan-Blue camp has framed weapons systems that the US tries to sell to Taiwan as useless or potentially dangerous. The US is often framed by the pan-Blue camp as seeking to foist weapons systems that it itself does not need onto Taiwan, so as to make money through arms sales.

In present times, there is greater pushback from the US regarding some of Taiwan’s arms purchases, with the US seeking to push Taiwan towards asymmetric means of warfare. This is particularly the case after the invasion of Ukraine, with Ukraine seen as having very successfully used asymmetric means of warfare to fend off Russia.

It is less common for the pan-Blue camp to target specific weapons systems from the US, however. To this extent, one speculates as to the role that Chinese disinformation has potentially played in trying to frame the Volcano mine system as something that would lead to Taiwan being filled with mines. In paradoxical fashion, however, it is possible that this suggests the utility of the system for Taiwan’s defense needs.

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