By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
A delegation from the U.S. Defense Department’s Comparative Testing Office will visit Taiwan in March to conduct further meetings and evaluations of Taiwan industries for the Foreign Comparative Testing (FCT) program, a Taiwan Ministry of National Defense source confirmed.
The FCT Program is conducted on a U.S. government-to-foreign industry basis and will probably not involve Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. The Master Information Exchange Agreement between Taiwan and the United States is aiding the FCT Program.
The American Institute of Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy, is sponsoring the delegation’s visit in cooperation with Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs through the Dual-Use Technologies Office, and under the Industrial Development Bureau and the National Defense Industrial Association of Sino, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting Taiwan’s defense industry.
This is the second delegation from the Comparative Testing Office to visit. The first occurred in March 2005, when a delegation visited Hsinchu Science Park, the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, state-owned China Shipbuilding Corp. and state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp.
“Staff members from the FCT program periodically visit other countries to see if any of their off-the-shelf technologies meet the needs of the U.S. war fighter,” U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian Maka, Defense Department spokesman, said in a written response.
Many here say Taiwan is the “undiscovered country” for supplying quality components and equipment for the U.S. military. Part of the reason Taiwan has been ignored is its quasi-diplomatic status in the international community.
“It’s been slow, but there’s a gradual awakening as to the technical talent that resides in local industry,” said a U.S. defense contractor based in Taipei. “For example, Singapore has 200 companies certified under U.S. military specs, Japan and Europe in the thousands. Taiwan has three. “But Taiwan has a lock on 70 percent of the world’s ICs [integrated circuits], and rates in the top of the world’s list in applied technology,” he said. “They have the fourth largest number of U.S. patents. In short, with the U.S. about to take a hit on defense spending, DoD is starting to find good, cost-effective sources for components and sub-assemblies [in Taiwan].”
Among other objections, opponents in the United States fear that Taiwan spies working for China might sell U.S. specifications to Beijing.
“Naysayers on the U.S. side say that Taiwan suppliers should not be given specs for DoD requirements,” the defense contractor said. “But these are given to France, Germany, Singapore and India. Taiwan has higher export control than even the U.S. has.”
However, in 2006, a Taiwan arms sales agent, Ko-suen “Bill” Moo, pled guilty in a U.S federal court for trying to ship an F-16 fighter jet engine to China. Still, proponents argue that Taiwan is no more a risk than any other international supplier participating in the same program.