Taiwan is set to take delivery of its refurbished Lockheed Martin P-3C maritime patrol aircraft from 2013, with the island close to signing a contract with the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
Under the $1.3 billion deal, Lockheed will refurbish 12 P-3Cs that are now in storage in the USA. Taiwan and the USA reached a tentative agreement on the sale in December 2007 as part of a wider arms sale package.
Last October, Washington approved a $6.5 billion arms package that includes 30 Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters, upgrades to four Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control system aircraft and spare parts for Taipei's Lockheed F-16A/B and Northrop F-5 fighters.
These will bolster Taiwan's defences against China, which has regarded the island as a renegade province since their split in 1949 and threatens to attack if Taipei declares independence. Taipei requested the arms several years ago, but Washington stalled as former Taiwanese president Chen Shui Bian threatened to declare independence unilaterally. Relations have improved significantly since Ma Ying Jeou replaced Chen in 2008.
Beijing opposes Washington's arms sales to Taiwan, and last year said that they "grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, endangered Chinese national security, and disturbed the peaceful development of cross-strait relations". But one long-time industry observer points out that the USA is selling mainly defensive weapons, and adds: "It is pretty hard for China to squawk too hard at that."
Washington is likely to approve a request for 60 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters next, but Taiwan's request to buy 66 F-16C/Ds remains in limbo. Taipei wants the F-16C/Ds to bolster its ageing Dassault Mirage 2000-5s, indigenous Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation F-CK-1A/Bs, and F-16A/Bs. AIDC has been urging the government to fund an upgrade programme for the F-CK-1A/Bs and the development of a successor to the type.
"The F-16s are a totally different matter," adds the industry observer. "It is unlikely that the Obama administration would take such a big risk when it needs Beijing's co-operation to overcome the ongoing global economic crisis."
The Obama administration appears to be keen to find a balance, with National Intelligence director Dennis Blair on 12 February telling US Congress that the USA had to ensure that "military adventures" remain "unattractive" in the Taiwan Straits. "Taiwan should not be so defenceless that it feels it has to do everything that China says. On the other hand, China cannot be so overwhelming that it can bully Taiwan."