Taiwan Eyes Variants for Special Ops Forces
TAIPEI — Washington is expected to approve the release of 60 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters for Taipei during the third quarter of this year, a Taiwan defense industry source said.
The initial plan is for 60 utility copters, the source said, but there are “plans for additional configurations,” possibly the MH-60 Pave Hawk special operations variant.
Taiwan has been beefing up its special operations capabilities and merged all Army special operations units under the new Aviation and Special Forces Command (ASFC) in 2006, a Ministry of National Defense (MND) source said.
The Army’s special operations units include the 862 Airborne Brigade, Airborne and Special Service Company (counterterrorism unit), and the 101 Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion (“Army Frogmen”).
The ASFC also has been upgrading its attack, cargo and utility helicopter capabilities, and has been pushing hard to replace the UH-1H since the death of eight ASFC members in a crash during an April 2007 night exercise.
Taiwan’s aging UH-1H utility helicopters are in dire need of replacement. The state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) assembled 118 UH-1Hs under contract with Bell Helicopter during the 1970s. There are about 60 UH-1Hs in operation, the MND source said, and plans are to continue using the remaining helicopters in conjunction with the Black Hawks until they are inoperable.
However, the Obama administration’s release of the Black Hawks is expected to raise protests from Beijing. China canceled military-to-military relations with the United States after the October release of a $6.4 billion arms deal, which included AH-64D Apache Longbows, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and submarine-launched Harpoon missiles. Relations were re-established in February.
Beijing said little over the March release of 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft for sale to Taiwan for $655 million, and the Taiwan defense industry source played down fears the United States will reduce the number of Black Hawks to placate China.
“I think the 60 will go or nothing,” the source said. “It would not make much sense politically to authorize a reduced number. Black Hawks are not a game-changer across the [Taiwan] Strait, no matter how many Taiwan bought.” For both the attack and utility bid, there was fierce competition from Bell, which offered the AH-1Z attack and UH-1Y utility helicopter and coproduction deals with AIDC. To further sweeten the deal, Bell signed a $10 million contract with AIDC in 2003 to produce 280 tail booms/elevators for U.S. Marine AH-1Z and UH-1Y helicopters.
However, over the past 20 years, Bell was outmaneuvered by Boeing and Sikorsky. Boeing secured the sale of nine CH-47SD Dakota helicopters for the ASFC in 1998, and since the late 1980s, the Air Force and Navy have operated the Sikorsky S-70C, the civilian version of the Black Hawk, for search and rescue, VIP and anti-submarine warfare missions.
There was criticism over Boeing’s closure of its Taiwan office in 2007 because of pressure from Beijing, but even that decision did not hurt sales. The United States released 30 AH-64D Block III Apache Longbows in October for an estimated $2.5 billion. The sale included 173 Stinger Block I air-to-air missiles and 1,000 AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missiles.
The Apaches will join the ASFC’s inventory of 63 Bell AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters procured in the 1990s. The Super Cobras are armed with the BGM-71 TubeLaunched, Optically Tracked, WireGuided missile system; AGM114C/K3 Hellfire missiles; M260 rocket launcher; M261 rocket launcher; and M197 three-barrel 20mm rotary cannon.
Taiwan’s strategy is to deploy attack helicopters in a maritime antiamphibious role to counter an invasion from China, as well as in the traditional role of ground support for the infantry.
The Cobras make up two Army aviation squadrons under the ASFC, which also fields the armed Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and UH-1H. Taiwan procured 38 Kiowas during the 1990s. The new Apaches will replace aging Kiowas in the armed reconnaissance role.