MELBOURNE, Australia — Taiwan’s government is seeking funding for a long-delayed plan to acquire shipboard anti-submarine helicopters from the United States, as it announces an increased defense budget for the forthcoming fiscal year.
Media outlets in Taiwan, including the Taipei Times, have reported that the Ministry of National Defense is aiming in the 11th hour to include funding to buy Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
The news comes as Taiwan’s government approved a $16.89 billion defense budget for the next fiscal year, which runs from Jan. 1 to December 31, 2022. The figure is a 4 percent increase from the previous fiscal year and represents about 2.1 percent of the country’s expected gross domestic product for 2022.
The media reports quote unnamed ministry sources as saying Taiwan wants to acquire up to 10 MH-60Rs spread over a number of years, and will also include weapons such as Mk 54 torpedoes, Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, and guns.
Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Shih Shun-wen declined to comment on the record.
The government’s cabinet comptroller, Tsu Tse-min, said that following the approval of the budget, any requested items not already budgeted for will require ministerial action. The ministry would have draw money from other programs to pay for those items, he official explained.
Taiwan is seeking MH-60Rs to replace its aging fleet of naval helicopters, which includes Sikorsky S-70C(M) and Hughes MD500 helos. The latter are light observation helicopters adapted for anti-submarine operations but date back to the 1980s and are due for replacement.
The U.S. State Department in 2015 approved the self-governing island to acquire 10 MH-60Rs under the Foreign Military Sales program, but Taiwan has had to defer the purchase on several occasions due to budget shortfalls and competing priorities.
The MH-60R is the latest in a line of naval helicopters based on the S-70 Black Hawk adapted for anti-submarine, anti-ship and other sea control operations from onboard ships or land bases. The variant is equipped with systems such as the AN/APS-153 multi-mode radar that can automatically detect submarine periscopes above the ocean surface, as well as the AN/AQS-22 advanced airborne low-frequency sonar.
If approved, the acquisition for MH-60Rs will join that of additional fighter jets and General Atomics MQ-9 Sea Guardian drones. The budget already allocated funds for the aircraft.
It’s unclear what type of fighter jets the government will buy, but the funding is likely meant for some of the 66 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 Fighting Falcon jets that the military is due to receive.