The navy is to buy two sets of US-made low-frequency active sonar (LFAS) systems to detect submarines operating in the Taiwan Strait, and plans to deploy them within two years, defense sources said yesterday.
\nThe LFAS, the most advanced system of its kind, is expected to greatly enhance the navy's anti-submarine capabilities.
\nThe two LFAS systems are to be land-based, with one to be placed in the northern part of the country and the other in the south.
\nThe deal will cost a great deal of money, but the exact figure was not available. The navy has classified the purchase top secret.
\nLFAS is a new submarine detection system that the US Navy has been developing since the 1980s. Hundreds of millions of US dollars were said to have been spent on development of the system, according to information available from Web sites linked to the LFAS project.
\nIt is quite unusual for the US government to sell Taiwan newly-developed military hardware. For decades, the military has had to accept second-hand or outdated weapons systems from the US.
\nBut the navy should not celebrate too soon, since the US government has yet to resolve complaints from enivronmental groups about the threat that LFAS may pose to marine mammals, especially whales.
\nIn 2000, 10 American organizations filed suit in a Honolulu federal court to halt the US Navy's preparations to deploy the LFAS.
\nThe suit alleged that the US Navy violated environmental laws by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the sonar system before completing the analysis of the system's environmental effects.
\nThe groups were concerned that the LFAS could cause severe injuries or death to whales or other sea creatures because of the high-powered frequencies it transmits as it penetrates the sea.
\nA defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the navy needs to get a powerful anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sensor like the LFAS to bolster its ability to protect Taiwan, but that it also has the responsibility of informing the public of its potential harm to the environment.
\n"The system is capable of detecting all submarines operating in the Taiwan Strait. It is most effective against objects in littoral waters. With it, the navy could save a lot of man-hours spent on ASW, by reducing submarine, surface ship, or helicopter patrols," the official said.
\nDespite the effectiveness of the system, the defense official said the navy has the moral obligation to tell the public what kind of harm the system could do to the environment or humans as well as where it would be deployed.
\nAccording to the navy's plan, the two LFAS systems are to be placed at elevated sites near the sea. Besides marine mammals, residents living near these LFAS stations could be affected.
\nLow frequencies capable of penetrating to the ocean floor must be transmitted at high power.
\nEleven Jan (
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