Taiwan Approves P-3 Orion Buy
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
Exact budget numbers are not yet available, but Taiwan’s legislature finally passed the budgets to buy P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and upgrade Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) Plus systems to PAC-3 in a late-night legislative session June 15.
The funding for the P-3 had been deadlocked in the legislature since 2004 and was the only thing that remained from a 2001 Bush administration offer to sell Taiwan eight diesel electric submarines, 12 P-3 Orion aircraft and several batteries of PAC-3 air defense missile systems.
The PAC-3 budget line was deleted and is not expected to be resubmitted. Taiwan is working on a similar anti-missile defense system, dubbed Tien Kung 3 (Sky Bow), surface-to-air missile system.
The legislature also froze one-third of the budget request for 66 F-16 Block 50/52 fighters. Legislators said that the rest would be released when the U.S. approved the sale.
The “Sea Star Plan,” a token feasibility study for diesel electric submarines, was passed but the funds might be transferred to the F-16 program, sources here said.
Originally, all three — the submarines, PAC-3s and P-3s — were submitted to the legislature in 2004 as a “special budget,” but it quickly became a political football between pro-China and pro-independence lawmakers. Some in the legislature accused the U.S. of forcing Taiwan to buy overpriced, unwanted arms as insurance for U.S. military support during a conflict with China.
The special budget was blocked more than 60 times by the legislature. It was slowly whittled down from $17 billion for the three platforms to a mere $186 million for only the P-3, PAC-2 upgrade and the “Sea Star Plan” submarine feasibility study.
Stephen Young, de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan, has openly criticized the Taiwan legislature for turning the defense budget into a political football.
The budget was generally supported by the ruling party, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (pan-Green), but efforts to pass the budget have been frustrated by so-called pan-Blues — members of the Kuomintang and the People’s First Party. Pan-Blue efforts to block the bill was also viewed as an attempt to embarrass President Chen Shui-bian, impede the executive branch and erode U.S. confidence in Taiwan.