Taiwan is planning to order nine improved Boeing CH-47SD Chinook transport helicopters, while wavering on a final decision to purchase a much larger quantity of utility machines to replace its locally built Bell UH-1Hs.

The US Congress is to be asked to approve a $486 million deal covering the sale of Chinooks to the Taiwanese army. The package also includes three spare AlliedSignal T55-714A turboshaft engines, chaff dispensers, radar warning receivers, parts, support equipment and training.

Deliveries are due to start at the end of 1999 and will supplement three Boeing 234MLR commercial-standard Chinooks already in Taiwanese army service.

The new machine will have a maximum take-off weight of 54,000lb (24,494kg), compared to the AL 5512-powered 234MLR's 23,130kg. It will also be equipped with full authority digital engine controls, automated flight controls and a new Honeywell glass cockpit.

Taiwan has delayed selection of a new utility helicopter, meanwhile, and is not expected to conclude a contract before 2000. The army is believed to have narrowed its choice to the Bell 412 or Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk, with the competing Eurocopter AS332L viewed as a political non-starter.

One option being considered is to order the new helicopter in several batches rather than in one single purchase and to withdraw the UH-1Hs in phases.

The army had been discussing an order for around 80 helicopters, but it is now considering cutting this to an initial order for just 20-25 machines. How this would affect Taiwanese demands to produce the helicopter in-country is as yet unclear.

Local defence sources suggest that reducing the size of the planned initial purchase is intended to make the programme financially and politically more acceptable. The sale of large numbers of US-built weapons to Taiwan has traditionally attracted strong criticism from China.

Source: Flight International