The central government is mulling the establishment of a Taiwanese version of the US’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in a bid to accelerate the research, development and application of military technology, Deputy Minister of National Defense Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明) said.
Lee made the comments at the 14th annual US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) yesterday said that integrating the industries should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, while advancing defense research should be conducted by the National Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology.
Chiang said a “Taiwanese DARPA” could elicit government malfeasance and compared it to the Taiwan Goal case.
The Taiwan Goal case refers to the publicly funded arms firm Taiwan Goal Co (鐽震). Two months after it was officially launched, the firm was dissolved in March 2008 by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, after KMT lawmakers said it was inappropriate for the government to be involved in the arms trade.
Then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) defended the firm, saying it was established to facilitate arms procurement for Taiwan.
The government should explain how a “Taiwanese DARPA” would be structured and it should outline its mission and specify procedures for handing out contracts, Chiang said.
The Ministry of National Defense issued a statement yesterday, saying arms procurement and business integration are “not pertinent” to the mission of the proposed agency, adding that the planned agency “in no way” resembles the Taiwan Goal case.
The National Defense Technology Development and Application Committee, a joint organization that involves the ministries of national defense, economic affairs and science and technology, is “hard pressed” to do any defense-related work because it has no budget for the development of technology, it added.
The committee is to be reorganized and its convener is to be promoted to facilitate defense and defense-related budgeting, it said.
Lee’s announcement regarding the establishment of a “Taiwanese DARPA” prompted debate among legislators, and the proposal might become a contentious policy item due to its requirement for the sharing or distribution of funds across agencies, critics said.
DARPA is a US agency dedicated to research in scientific and engineering programs for military purposes.
The US Department of Defense established DARPA in 1958 as a response to the then-Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, which shocked the US into taking remedial action to counter Soviet advances in science and technology with military potential.
DARPA’s annual standing budget is estimated to be close to US$3 billion, and its spending is further bolstered by additional funding when research projects are under way.
The agency also has a longstanding history of funding research in autonomous drones, as well as platforms and prizes for international technology and engineering challenges.
Critics in Taiwan said the nation has lagged behind other East Asian countries in establishing a DARPA-like agency, as Japan and China have already founded national advanced defense research establishments.
South Korea is also in the process of creating one.
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