Sun, Jul 16, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Pentagon agrees to two-stage arms procurement: report

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Pentagon has agreed to let Taiwan purchase up to eight diesel submarines in two phases, with payment for the design and construction being billed separately, according to a report by Reuters yesterday.

The revised proposal was aimed at speeding up legislative approval for the long-stalled arms procurement budget, the report said.

The Ministry of National Defense, however, declined to comment on the Reuters report when asked by the Taipei Times for confirmation.

"You know that the ministry never comments on things or issues like this. There will be no exception in this case," ministry Spokesman Rear Admiral Wu Chi-fang (吳季方) said. Wu added that he did not know whether the Pentagon had sent a letter to Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑).

Wu was referring to the Reuters report which said that Richard Lawless, the Pentagon's Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Asia and the Pacific, had sent Lee a letter dated June 27.

In the letter, Lawless said that separating the design and construction phases was "legally permissible and administratively feasible," according to the Reuters report.

Lawless estimated the cost of the design phase at US$360 million. He did not give an estimate for production costs.

In the letter, Reuters said that Lawless told Lee at a recent meeting with US officials that "potential prime contractors [have] expressed continued interest in the Taiwan submarine program, and in competing under the two-phase acquisition approach."

However, Lawless added in his letter that the two-stage approach would likely boost costs and the risk of delays "as potential foreign design agents and their governments may be less likely to participate," according to the report.

Reuters said that the two-phase approach was the brainchild of US Republican Representative Rob Simmons, whose Connecticut district includes General Dynamics Corp's Electric Boat shipyard, which builds submarines for the US Navy.

However, according to the Liberty Times, the Taipei Times' Chinese-language sister newspaper, the idea was first put forth by the ministry for "practical" reasons.

The Reuters report cited a US expert on Taiwan's military as saying that Taipei had been waiting since April for Washington to reply to its proposal for the two-phase approach.

US President George W. Bush first offered an arms package of 12 items including four Kidd-class destroyers to Taiwan in April 2001.

Taiwan has already bought seven of the 12 items. Up to eight diesel-electric subma-rines, 12 P-3C anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft and three PAC III anti-missile batteries are the remaining major items, which have been blocked by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers and their allies in the legislature.

Many US lawmakers have expressed their discontent with the failure of the Legislative Yuan to pass the arms budget. The lack of progress on the arms purchase has prompted some US critics to question whether Taiwan is willing to help shoulder the burden for its own defense.

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