Fri, Nov 03, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Chen commissions vessels, touts arms deal

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN SUAO, ILAN COUNTY

Flanked by Premier Su Tseng-chang, left, and Minister of National Defense Lee Jye, President Chen Shui-bian waves to the media below surface-to-air missiles on the bow of a newly commissioned US-made Kidd-class destroyer at the Suao Commercial Port yesterday. Chen also used the opportunity to push for the passage of the arms bill.

PHOTO: WALLY SANTANA, AP

Speaking during the commissioning ceremony for the navy's two new Kidd-class destroyers yesterday, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) urged Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to help pass a long-stalled US arms procurement deal in the legislature.

"The KMT is definitely able to make it [the procurement deal] happen," Chen said. "Strong military forces will enable us to maintain the peace. Nobody is capable of taking on this responsibility if we fail to purchase the weapons necessary to defend our country."

Chen addressed more than 1,000 sailors at the Suao Commercial Port yesterday during a commissioning ceremony for DDG-1803 Tsoying and DDG-1805 Makung, two Kidd-class destroyers purchased from the US.

Appreciation

In his speech, Chen expressed appreciation to the Bush administration for approving the procurement of four Kidd-class destroyers in 2001.

The four vessels are home-ported in Suao, as it is the only port deep enough to accommodate them.

"It is difficult for us to buy new weapons from a foreign country. We should take every single chance that we have," Chen said.

Around 9:45am, a 21-gun salute was fired from a Lafayette-class frigate as the national anthem played in the background. Hundreds of sailors from the crews of the four Kidd-class destroyers stood at attention.

Chen congratulated the sailors for their hard work, saying they had completed the necessary skills and training in the US to get the ships underway nine months earlier than originally scheduled.

Rear Admiral Pu Tze-chun (蒲澤春), commander of the Kidd-class destroyer contingent, said the sailors' ahead-of-schedule performance had saved the country a lot of money in personnel expenditures.

Pu mentioned that four air defense officers from the air force are stationed on each Kidd-class vessel.

Among them, the Tsoying's Captain Tsai Bao-hui (蔡寶慧) is the only female air force officer to hold such a post.

Naval Fleet Command Headquarters Spokesman Rear Admiral Liou Chih-chien (劉志堅) said that including Tsai, there are five female officers and one female petty officer on board the four Kidd-class destroyers.

Lieutenant Chuang Fu-ke (莊馥閣) is the missile-control chief aboard the Makung. She is also the first female missile-control chief in the navy's history.

"Aboard my ship, more than half of the sailors are under 25 years old. People call this group of young people `the strawberry generation' because they are seen to be as soft as strawberries," Chuang said. "I must tell you: That saying does not apply to the crew of this ship, and it proved that with what it achieved."

Concerns

Pu also addressed concerns about the ship, such as the fact that Suao Commercial Port is the only port deep enough for the four ships, and that the navy might have problems performing maintenance on the vessels in the future due to a lack of replacement parts, as the four ships were originally built nearly two decades ago.

"These are very good questions, but I must tell you that such worries do not exist," Pu said. He added that the navy is currently deepening its ports for the four vessels.

As for maintenance concerns, the four vessels are part of a procurement deal that includes logistics and parts, he said.

"I assure you that these four vessels will be able to remain in service for another 20 to 30 years," Pu said.

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