Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taiwan Gets 12 Orion ASW Aircraft

Defense News


Taiwan Gets 12 Orion ASW Aircraft

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI – The U.S released 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare (ASW) patrol aircraft March 13 to Taiwan when the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced a $665 million firm-fixed-price contract award to Lockheed Martin, Maritime Systems and Sensors Tactical Systems, under the Foreign Military Sales program.

The award includes the procurement of phased depot maintenance, structural service life extension, and avionics modification on 12 P-3 aircraft.

Work will be performed in the U.S. and be completed in August 2015. The Maryland-based U.S. Naval Air Systems Command was the contracting activity.

The P-3 award follows the DSCA announcement in October for a $6.4 billion arms package that enraged China. Beijing retaliated by discontinuing military-to-military exchanges with the U.S., now restarted with the Obama administration.

The October package included an E-2 Hawkeye aircraft upgrade, 30 AH-64D Block III Apache Longbow attack helicopters, 330 Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missiles, 32 UGM-84L sub-launched Harpoon Block II missiles, spare parts for F-5E/F, C-130H, F-16A/B and the Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), and 182 Javelin guided missile anti-tank rounds. Missing from the list was a submarine design study and 60 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters.

The P-3s and the October arms package release were part of the Bush administration's April 2001 arms deal to Taiwan that included eight submarines, now on hold. The Bush offer became a nightmare when members of Taiwan's legislature refused to approve budget requests and turned the deal into a political football.

The issue was resolved in early 2008 when the Beijing-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) unseated the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in presidential and legislative elections.

However, the long-delayed arms deal resulted in even more delays for other items, some going back a decade. Deferred procurements, or wish-list items, include four Aegis-equipped destroyers, M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), AGM-88 HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) anti-radiation missiles, and 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighter aircraft. Taiwan has also been discussing the idea of procuring F-35 fighters when and if they become available.

Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), is reportedly preparing to renew pressure on releasing F-16s.

Taiwan's fighter inventory includes 146 F-16A/B Block 20, 128 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF), 56 Mirage 2000-5s and roughly 60 aging F-5s. There is a pressing need to replace the F-5s to maintain its current air power capability.

The U.S. is the last country selling arms to Taiwan. Due to Chinese pressure, Europe and Israel discontinued arms sales to Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s, and a French sale of Mirage fighter aircraft and Lafayette frigates in the 1990s resulted in a disastrous corruption scandal that ended all future arms from Paris.

In the past 10 years, Taiwan's indigenous arms industry has wilted in favor of reliable and tested U.S. arms. The result is a narrow non-competitive choice for arms from the U.S. that could now face an end as Chinese pressure on Washington grows.

Questions remain regarding the direction the new Obama administration policy will take on Taiwan. Economic and diplomatic pressure from Beijing will no doubt continue to influence Washington. A U.S. government source said China successfully pressured Washington to freeze arms sales to Taiwan in 2007 and 2008. It was not until intense lobbying by pro-Taiwan advocates in Washington that the Bush administration released the October arms deal.

With China holding $1.9 trillion in foreign exchange reserves and Washington asking Beijing to buy even more U.S. debt, there are concerns Obama's pending Taiwan policy will favor no arms in the future.