Under pressure from the US, the Ministry of National Defense has agreed to buy the newly developed Patriot PAC-3, although it is still unsure of the full anti-ballistic missile capabilities of the new system, defense sources said yesterday.
Deputy Minister of National Defense for Armament General Chen Chao-ming (陳肇敏) made the promise on behalf of the ministry in the middle of last month as he visited the US to attend this year's US-Taiwan defense industry conference. The conference was organized by the US-Taiwan Business Council.
Chen agreed to the deal as he met with his US counterparts during the two-day conference held in San Antonio, Texas, sources said.
However, no formal agreement was signed between the two sides concerning the PAC-3 at that time.
Chen's spoken promise, although not considered legally binding, represents the ministry's first acceptance of a deal to acquire the missile defense system.
The US approved the sale several years ago and has strongly recommended the PAC-3 system to Taipei for use in defending against ballistic missile threats from China.
The ministry's hesitation to buy the PAC-3 aroused serious concerns from the US, since the US considers the system an integral item for this country's self-defense. Another weapons system categorized as vital is a long-range early warning radar.
The ministry's explanation for the delay in procurement was that the PAC-3 is still under development and has not shown proven reliability through repeated testing.
Another reason for the delay is the lack of funds.
The military plans to buy a total of six batteries of the PAC-3, each of which include launchers, missile interceptors, and command facilities.
The deal is reported to cost over NT$100 billion, a figure yet to be confirmed by the ministry.
A defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that although Chen had promised the US that the military will buy the PAC-3, there are still a lot of variables involved.
"The MND has yet to overcome a number of problems. It must first get enough money to make the purchase.
But the budget for this deal is not likely to be ready very soon," the official said.
Aside from the PAC-3, a long-range early warning radar system has become another focus of attention for the military.
Before deciding to buy an early warning radar, the military spent considerable time assessing the need for such a system.
Compared to the PAC-3, the early warning radar system costs much less -- around NT$28 billion -- and yet the military did not rush the decision to buy the system. The PAC-3 and early warning radar are complementary components for the provision of missile defenses.
The six batteries of the PAC-3 system that the military is to buy are slated for deployment in the central and southern parts of Taiwan, while the PAC-2 Plus, which has already been bought and positioned in greater Taipei, is to be upgraded for the purpose of defending against saturation ballistic missile attacks.