By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
The Taiwan Army is debating its next attack helicopter procurement: 30 additional aircraft for a new aviation brigade to add to 62 Bell Helicopter-Textron AH-1W Super Cobras purchased in 1993.
In the event of a Chinese invasion, the Army plans to use attack helicopters to hit smaller troop transports and support ships, and against enemy troops disembarking from transports along the island’s coast.
The service submitted a confusing cost and operational effectiveness analysis (COEA) to the Ministry of National Defense (MND) on June 9 for older helicopters: the AH-1W, S-70C and AH-64D Block 2.
Sources here believe the MND is rushing the Army to submit its budget proposal and, consequently, service officials are relying on old data to overcome bureaucratic inertia. The actual platforms being considered by the Army are the Boeing AH-64D Block 3 Apache, Bell Helicopter AH-1Z and Sikorsky MH-60M multimission helicopters.
“The COEA report that was submitted is believed to be a placeholder, and that the final report is to be submitted in the future,” said one source close to the potential deal. “How long MND is willing to wait is anyone’s guess. After MND receives the COEA from the Taiwan Army, they send it to their own Assessments Bureau for a similar analysis, and then it is forwarded to the Executive Yuan, which then takes MND’s recommendation and directs the Legislative Yuan to appropriate the necessary funds to make the procurement in the next fiscal year.”
This bureaucratic maze is expected to delay the final decision till 2008 at the earliest.
The delay will allow Sikorsky and Boeing to be in place to provide candidate aircraft. The MH-60M is not expected to be ready until late this year and the Apache Block 3 is expected in 2010.
“The AH-1Z is currently undergoing its Operational Test and Evaluation, and is scheduled to complete by late 2006,” said Glenn Murray, a Bell executive who handles international military sales for the AH-1Z. “The four aircraft at China Lake, California, have completed a majority of their missile firing tests and have logged more than 350 hours of flight time. The program is in the low-rate initial production phase, and the first production AH-1Z is scheduled to deliver to the U.S. Marine Corps in December 2006.”
Battle Hawk Option
One Sikorsky option being discussed in Taiwan is the AH-60L/S-70 Direct Action Penetrator Battle Hawk, used by Australian, Colombian and U.S. special forces. It can be armed with a 20mm turreted gun. The Battle Hawk has seen action in Afghanistan and in the Colombian jungles.
Sikorsky spokesman Ed Steadham declined to comment.
Part of the debate centers on plans to replace the Army’s aging Bell UH-1H helicopters. Currently there are 50 to 60 operational Hueys in the 601 and 602 Army Aviation Brigades. Bell is offering the UH-1Y and Sikorsky is offering the UH-60 as replacements.
Boeing sold Taiwan nine CH-47SD Dakota helicopters in the late 1990s, and there is the possibility of additional sales as a replacement for the UH-1H.
“When Taiwan chooses to upgrade their fleet of UH-1H helicopters, procurement of the UH-1Y will allow the Taiwan Army to benefit from similar life cycle cost savings and reduced maintenance manpower requirements as the U.S. Marine Corps,” Murray said.
Taiwan’s Air Force created the Air Rescue Group, the Blue Hawks, with the delivery of 14 S-70C-1 helicopters in the 1990s. Four were modified for VIP transport. The Navy has two squadrons of S-70C helicopters for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), acquired during the same period.
Both Sikorsky and Bell have business relationships with Taiwan’s state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC).
AIDC is a participant in Sikorsky’s TEAM S-92, an international consortium of six countries involved in the manufacture and production of the S-92. AIDC produces the cockpit.
AIDC also has a relationship with Bell, under which it produces the tail booms/elevators for the U.S. Marine AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopters in a $10 million deal signed in 2003 to produce 280 fittings over four years. Bell has been in discussions with AIDC on expanding the program to include a co-assembly option should the Army choose the AH-1Z and later the UH-1Y.
Murray also is proposing Taiwan upgrade the AH-1W to the AH-1Z standard, arguing it will save money on maintenance and training. Two separate attack helicopters would double the costs, he said.