Taipei plans $7 billion order, but move could face fresh opposition from parliament

Taiwan is going ahead with plans to buy attack and transport helicopters from the USA to rejuvenate its ageing army inventory, with industry officials hoping that the deal will not get caught in the same legislative gridlock that has delayed earlier procurements.

The defence ministry has ap­proved the purchase of up to 30 attack helicopters, and is also considering around 90 utility helicopters, say industry sources, but Taiwan's cabinet and the US government must now approve the procurement.

Taipei is likely to select Boeing's AH-64D Apache Longbow in its search for an attack helicopter, while Bell's UH-1Y and the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk could compete for the utility requirement, the sources say. The joint procurement is likely to cost around $7 billion, and if approval is granted next year deliveries could begin by 2010.

The army has long required replacements for its Bell AH-1W and UH-1Hs, but some sources believe the new deal could hit a roadblock in Taiwan's legislature. Parliamentarians have been blocking the approval of a $14.5 billion special budget for defence equipment including 12 Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare aircraft since 2001, and a similar situation could arise with the helicopter purchase. However, one Taipei-based industry source notes: "The P-3C deal has been successfully blocked as it is a special budget, but this would come out of the defence ministry's annual budget and be spread out over a few years, so it may not be as contentious."

Wrangling over the special budget has frustrated US officials, who have said there will be no movement on Taiwan's $3.1 billion request for 66 Lockheed F-16C/D fighters until the first equipment package has been passed. Some parliamentarians are concerned about the cost of the fighters, while others want to raise political opposition against President Chen Shui Bian.

Source: Flight International