Taiwan is sending a delegation to the USA next month to evaluate the Bell AH-1Z and Boeing AH-64D, ahead of a platform selection to equip three new attack helicopter brigades.

Boeing hopes Taiwan will start the procurement process by year-end, since the Apache Longbow is the only candidate currently available. But budget constraints threaten to delay procurement until at least next year, which would give Bell the opportunity to offer the new AH-1Z.

Taiwanese industry sources say Taiwan's army has arranged a June visit to Boeing's Apache facility in Mesa, Arizona. The delegation also plans to view the AH-1Z, which is being tested by the US Marine Corps at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

Taiwan has a requirement for 75 attack helicopters, enough to field three new brigades, although initially it may only acquire 20 and field one brigade. The army has been evaluating the Apache for the past two years and was cleared to receive data on the aircraft a year ago (Flight International, 30 April-5 May, 2002). Taiwan, however, has not yet budgeted for any new attack helicopters and there are several competing military requirements vying for scarce funds in its fiscal year 2004 budget.

Attack helicopters are not in the USA-prepared top three Taiwan military acquisition priority list, which includes submarines, missiles and C4ISR. But if the Taipei government will fund a helicopter purchase in 2004, a letter of offer and acceptance could be signed by year-end and the first aircraft would be on line in 2007.

In this event the Apache would be the only candidate, as the AH-1Z is not due to reach initial operational capability until late 2007 and the German government has refused to make the new Eurocopter Tiger HAP available to Taiwan.

Source: Flight International