Taiwan's defense ministry has earmarked an initial US$230 million to buy 60 military helicopters from the United States amid fresh indications the U.S. Congress will likely approve the deal, a Taiwanese military official and U.S. lobbyists said.The real kicker isn't a tiny helicopter deal, but the 66 F-16s that the Chen Administration requested but the Bush Administration refused to sell. Will we get those? Or will appeasement of China take precedence over Taiwan's defense needs?
''We've earmarked NT$8 billion [US$230 million] in our defense budget this year for 60 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters,'' the military official said on condition of anonymity.
Overall, the island's military is committed to the deal, widely considered a litmus test for further U.S. arms sales to the island, to the tune of NT$14.6 billion (US$420 million), the official said.
The earmark came as U.S. lobbyists with ties to Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. -- which manufactures the Black Hawk, a utility helicopter used to transport troops and cargo -- said the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is trending toward submitting the deal to Congress for review.
''The deal is supposed to pass congressional notification this fall,'' a lobbyist familiar with the matter said, requesting anonymity because of political sensitivity.
Congressional notification is a vital step in the U.S. foreign military sales process, which requires Congress to review and approve deals within 50 days of their submission.
The Obama administration will likely start reviewing pending arms deals to Taiwan in June, said Rubert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, which represents roughly 100 U.S. firms with business interests in Taiwan, including top military contractors.
''Through the summer, they should formulate a fairly good plan on how the U.S. is going to respond to rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait that will include arms sales and their overall goals,'' he said. Congressional notification of the Black Hawks, he added, would most likely take place in September or October.
Last month, amid U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to China, the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin Corp. finalized a US$1.3 billion deal to refurbish a dozen antisubmarine aircraft for sale to Taiwan.
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