Taiwan's army is leaning towards selecting the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow for its attack helicopter requirement, but the deal could be held up by a fractious parliament that is still stalling on an approval for an earlier arms package.
Taipei seems to prefer the Apache for its 30-aircraft, $1.5 billion requirement, with local news reports quoting army Col Dai Kuang Chao as saying: "The AH-64D is the most suitable investment choice for the future."
The aircraft also "appears to be a better fit with our needs", says a defence ministry source. The army has also been considering the Bell AH-1Z Cobra for the deal.
A separate competition for at least 60 utility helicopters is also likely to begin later this year, according to Taipei-based industry sources. The Bell UH-1Y and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk are likely to be in contention for the requirement, which could eventually rise to 90 aircraft, worth around $5 billion.,
But Taiwan's requirements to replace its current AH-1Ws and UH-1Hs must first be approved by parliamentarians who have successfully blocked approvals for a $14.5 billion special budget for defence equipment including 12 Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare aircraft since 2001.
The controversy has already stalled Taipei's planned $3.1 billion purchase of 66 Lockheed F-16C/D fighters, although a Taipei-based industry source notes that the fighter and helicopter deals could prompt less opposition as they will be funded from the defence ministry's annual budget over several years.
The defence ministry source, meanwhile, confirms that Taipei is also seeking to acquire inflight refuelling aircraft from the USA, and could also lease Boeing AV-8B Harrier II strike aircraft to bolster its air force inventory.