Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Ministry of defense stresses need for submarines

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A map detailing China's submarine deployment is shown at a symposium yesterday on the need for diesel-driven submarines to build a strong military. PHOTO: CHIEN JUNG-FENG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan must upgrade and expand its submarine warfare capabilities if it is to prevent China, which will have its first aircraft carrier battle group by 2020, from surrounding the island from the east with its blue-water navy in the future, a high-ranking defense official said.

Chen Yung-kang (陳永康), director of the Ministry of Defense's Integrated Assessment Office, said the group would consist of 11 warships, with the recently acquired Varyag aircraft carrier and a Kiev-class helicopter carrier -- both Soviet-era vessels -- serving as its centerpiece.

Seven surface ships and two nuclear attack submarines will make up the remaining nine vessels, Chen said.

Chen made the remarks at a symposium yesterday morning, which was hosted by the Institute for Taiwan Defense and Strategic Studies to discuss the navy's planned purchase of eight submarines from the US.

Vice Admiral Tung Hsiang-lung (董翔龍), chief of staff of the Navy Command Headquarters, said that the US government has requested a down payment of US$360 million as a guarantee for the deal, given that Taiwan's opposition has continuously blocked the budget for the purchase of the submarines in the legislature.

"[The US government's] attitude is quite clear," Tung said. "If we do not give a down payment, they will not begin to hire European contractors to build the vessels for us."

The US government has to hire European contractors to build the eight diesel submarines for Taiwan since the US does not build diesel submarines anymore.

"After making the down payment and deciding on the European contractors, we will ask for blueprints of the vessels before they begin to build the submarines for us. When the blueprints are approved, we will then submit them to the legislature for a final approval," Tung said.

While the navy is willing to fork out US$360 million, Tung said it would not pay the US anything more unless it received assurance that what the US is selling is what the navy really needs, Tung said.

The navy's acquiescence to the down payment has been criticized by the opposition and some mem-bers of the public as extortion by the US.

"But, [the down payment] is not a form of extortion. The down payment is actually a show of our determination and guarantee to the US and potential European contractors that Taiwan will definitely carry out the contract. It also shows our determination to defend ourselves," Tung said.

Chu Tsung-jung (朱從榮), Rear Director of the Navy Command Headquarters' planning department, said that the legislature had pre-approved a partial payment of NT$200 million (US$6 million), but it was still far short of the amount that the navy needs for its actual down payment to the US.

Additional reporting by Hsu Chao-hsuan

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