Taiwan's legislature could approve a budget within the next month to acquire a delayed arms package including 12 Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, but support for the planned purchase of 66 new fighters could be delayed amid a fresh tangle of domestic politics.

The $14.5 billion budget would allow Taiwan to take delivery of its P-3Cs from 2011, and to field six Lockheed/Raytheon PAC-3 anti-missile batteries and eight submarines from the USA. The package was proposed in 2001, but the budget was not submitted to parliament until late last year after opposition politicians delayed its progress. Industry sources in Taipei say the impasse appears to have been broken and believe the budget could be passed this month.

Frustrated by the delay, senior US officials have said there will be no movement on Taiwan's request for 66 Lockheed F-16C/D fighters until the first budget has been passed. "It's no surprise that the Americans are losing their patience, as the legislators appear more interested in political showboating than Taiwan's security," says one industry official.

The F-16 deal is likely to cost $3.1 billion, but could also be delayed by more bickering. Some parliamentarians are concerned about the deal's high cost, while others want to use it as a political tool against President Chen Shui Bian.

Taiwan's air force needs to bolster its F-16A/B, Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation F-CK-1 and Dassault Mirage 2000 fleets.

Source: Flight International