Monday, March 09, 2009

Taiwan to buy 60 US helicopters

Kyodo's Max Hirsch reports:

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.

''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.
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?

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Thomas said...

While the helicopters are not as good as the F-16s, I think this is sends a positive message at the moment. It sends China a message that arms deals to Taiwan will not be beholden to their temper tantrums.

Now if only there were an administration in power that had the chutzpah to send the same kind of message...

Antonio said...

Helicopters will be useful for Taiwan, if these helicopters without arms would still be good...unlike F16 just a toy for display.

Raj said...

Wang say the US won't sell them at least this year.

Game over, might as well look elsewhere or try to make something new. No point in hoping the US will sell something it won't.

Dixteel said...

This is actually a quite complex issue.

Politically speaking, selling of F-16s during this time can send a wrong message. It will indicate that the US actually have no concern what so ever over Ma's government recent action of leaning toward China. On the other hand, militarily speaking these aircrafts will give Taiwan great boost in terms of deterance. F-16 C/D are much more versatile than the current Taiwan F-16 (A/B modified). It has greater ability in ground attacks, and has been "tested" in real combat. Also we are talking about 15 years time frame, and have to look at the military capability of PRC in the long term.

Also, the helicopters are actually quite important for Taiwan I think and cannot be under estimated. Some of the Taiwan's personel carrier helicopters are too old (UH-1 I think?) and need replacement. These type of helicopter usually carries special forces that can be very critical during war I think. And just a few years ago there was 1 UH-1 crash in Taiwan that kills everyone on board during an routine excercise. From what I read, they are one of the best trained air calvary unit in Taiwan. Not to mention the lives lost, but the amount of investment in those professional soldiers vanished.

Black Hawk would be a perfect replacement because it's versatile, robust, has good combat survivability and also has seen many real combats. It's probably better if it's those that carries our country's troops instead of the aging UH-1 (which is also not a bad helicopter but it's probably just too old for this era).