TAIPEI — New military aircraft will soon begin filling Taiwan’s skies as it takes delivery of new fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft along with attack and utility helicopters.
All told, $7.6 billion worth of new equipment and aircraft designed to keep China’s hands off the island will begin filling the arsenals of Taiwan’s military this year.
The list includes 12 refurbished Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft ($1.96 billion), 30 Boeing AH-64E Apache Longbow attack helicopters ($2.53 billion), and 60 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters ($3.1 billion).
“This equipment is an important ongoing testament to the U.S. security commitment to Taiwan,” said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president, U.S.-Taiwan Business Council.
Due to the procurement delays caused by political infighting within the legislature from 2004 to 2007, the equipment is coming into Taiwan’s inventory several years late. The result is “undue stress on older equipment that should already have been retired, undue stress on personnel through maintenance and undue stress on Taiwan military’s procurement budget,” he said.
This also means that the defense budget has “to bear the burden of massive procurement for equipment over five years as opposed to greater than 10,” Hammond-Chambers said. “It is imperative that both the U.S. and Taiwan governments stay on top of Taiwan’s requirements so that the procurement process can function and money can be available. Delays result in significant stress and a less-capable Taiwan military.”
Protecting Taiwan has become an increasingly difficult task for the self-ruled island of 23 million people as China’s military modernization begins to threaten the status quo of Japanese and U.S. military power in the region.
Lockheed Martin is expected to deliver the first Orion to Taiwan by the end of the year. The first two have already been delivered for training in the U.S. The P-3s will replace aging Grumman S-2T Turbo Tracker aircraft acquired during the 1980s after a conversion of Taiwan’s older S-2E/G to T standards.
The P-3Cs will see a more arduous mission after China procures four Amur-class submarines from Russia. Former U.S. President George W. Bush authorized the P-3s in April 2001, but the sale was delayed by a late bid from L-3 Communications to compete against Lockheed Martin. In September 2007, the U.S. notified Congress of a contract award to Lockheed worth $1.96 billion.
The 60 UH-60M Black Hawks will supplement aging Bell UH-1H utility helicopters procured during the 1970s. The Black Hawks have been much in demand after the devastating 2009 Morakot typhoon killed more than 700 Taiwanese.
The U.S. government released Black Hawks in January 2010. Sikorsky won the competition against the Bell UH-1 Yankee four-blade utility helicopter. Sikorsky will begin delivery of the Black Hawks in March 2014 with expected final delivery in 2018.
Taiwan will continue to operate its remaining fleet of UH-1H helicopters until retirement, tentatively scheduled for 2020.
Taiwan will also receive 30 Apaches in the fourth quarter of this year. The first two have already been delivered for training in the U.S., said a Taiwan defense analyst. The Apaches were released in October 2008 after a heated competition against the Bell AH-1Z four-blade attack helicopter.
The Apaches will form a third squadron of attack helicopters, now made up of two squadrons of AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters.
Many defense analysts in Taiwan are questioning how slow-moving maritime patrol aircraft and attack/utility helicopters will help as China begins to develop fifth-generation fighters and expand its fourth-generation fighter fleet with purchases of new Su-35 fighters from Russia.
Taiwan appears to have given up on new F-16 fighters, settling instead for an upgrade of older F-16A/B Block 20s. This has caused some consternation among supporters of the F-16 sale to Taiwan in Congress; the sale is now blocked by the U.S. State Department.
In addition, the decision to release new F-16s to Egypt, now ruled by a conservative anti-Israel religious government, has caused confusion in Taipei. Taiwan, which is pro-U.S., has been denied new fighters in an effort to placate China, whose military modernization efforts threaten regional security and appear to be an effort to push U.S. military power out of the region.
The prospect of additional U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will be made clearer this year with the return of the biennial Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE) in August.
Sponsored by the Ministry of National Defense, TADTE has come to represent Taiwan’s best efforts at demonstrating its indigenous manufacturing capabilities in the defense sector. Though the show has shrunk over the years due to decreased interest from U.S. companies, Lockheed and Raytheon are expected to participate again this year.