Taiwan Finalizes Long Awaited P-3 Deal
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI – Taiwan, the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin have finally settled issues over price and offset options, and are expected to soon sign a contract for 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft for $1.3 billion, said sources in Taiwan.
The signing will mark the end of two decades of struggle by Taiwan to replace its decrepit Northrop Grumman S-2T anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft.
In April 2001, former U.S. President George W. Bush authorized the sale of a major arms package to Taiwan that included 12 P-3s, eight diesel submarines and four Kidd-class destroyers. Much of the arms package was held up by years of bickering in Taiwan's legislature that alienated Washington.
The delay is also expected to have increased the price per aircraft - originally $66 million in 2001 - but an exact breakdown on figures was unavailable. Lockheed Martin did not comment on final contract negotiations.
Taiwan's air force procured 37 S-2Ts in 1978 and transferred the remaining 26 to the navy's 1st Aviation Group in 1998 to outfit two squadrons, the 133rd and 134th.
Today, sources in Taiwan have said there are only three functioning S-2T aircraft with ASW capabilities. One operational S-2T was spotted during a Taiwan naval exercise in 2008 in the Pacific.
Since 2000, besides the P-3C, the Lockheed S-3 Viking and Alenia C-27J Spartan were discussed as replacement options. Before 2000, with the pullout of European defense contractors from Taiwan because of pressure from China, the military considered the Fokker Maritime Enforcer and the Dassault Atlantique Europatrol aircraft. The U.S. had also discussed refurbished Lockheed P-2 Neptune aircraft, but Taiwan rejected the offer.
Part of the P-3 delay was early Taiwan military opposition to procuring refurbished aircraft. Despite the fact P-3 production had been discontinued, Taiwan military officials insisted on reopening the line, a costly option that delayed procurement for several years.
A late bid in 2006 by L-3 Communications also delayed procurement as Taiwan debated the option. L-3 hired former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to lobby Taiwan for an open bidding. L-3 finally canceled its bidding efforts.
The P-3s will be pulled from the U.S. Air Force's bone yard, the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, in Arizona, for refurbishment.
China has greatly expanded its conventional submarine fleet over the past twenty years. It now has roughly 55 diesel attack submarines, including Kilo-class, aging Romeo-class, Ming-class and Song-class submarines.