The Taiwan army has narrowed down the selection of a replacement utility helicopter to either the Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk or the Bell 412, in what promises to be one of the few remaining lucrative arms deals still being actively contested in Asia.

Taiwan has a requirement for up to 100 new transport helicopters to replace its fleet of locally built Bell UH-1Hs. The military is requesting an acquisition budget of around $1 billion over a five-year period beginning in 1999, by which time a final contract is expected to be signed.

It is understood from sources in Taiwan that the army favours the Black Hawk, but moves to go to an immediate single-source bid have been ruled out at Government level. While the 412 remains in contention, both the Mil Mi-17 and Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma have now been eliminated from the running.

French Government approval to sell the Super Puma to Taiwan was always considered a political long shot, given the undertaking made by Paris to Beijing not to sell any more defence equipment to Taiwan in the wake of the 1992 Mirage 2000-5 deal.

A major deciding factor in the final selection of the aircraft will be the extent of industrial co-operation offered to Taiwan, including local manufacture of the helicopter. Taichung-based Aerospace Industrial Development, which originally licence-produced Taiwan's UH-IHs, is viewed as a likely prime contractor, along with the smaller Tainan-based Air Asia.

Taiwan's requirements on offsets were recently raised from a minimum of 30% to 40%, but competition between Sikorsky and Bell is believed to have been driven this to as high as 70%. One proposal which is under discussion is a possible trade-in on some of Taiwan's existing 96 UH-1Hs.

The Taiwanese marine corps, in the meantime, also wants to establish its own organic air wing and has begun to shop around for 20 helicopters. The service is believed to be looking for a mix of utility transports and armed attack machines for delivery around 2000/2001.

Source: Flight International