Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Defense ministry trims cost of special arms budget

EXCHANGE RATE BOOST The strengthening of the NT dollar against the greenback has helped slice more than NT$100 billion off the original cost of the weaponry


The Ministry of National Defense announced yesterday that it has cut its NT$610.8 billion (US$19.3 billion) US weapon procurement budget down to NT$590 billion to reflect the change in exchange rates.

"The amendment of the procurement was completed and transferred to the Executive Yuan for discussion and approval. It will not be sent to the Legislative Yuan before the Cabinet approves it," said ministry spokesman Rear Admiral Liou Chih-chien (劉志堅).

The procurement budget focuses on three main items -- 384 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile batteries, 12 P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and eight diesel power submarines.

The arms budget was rejected during the last legislative session amid complaints that it was too expensive and that Taiwan should be building its own submarines.

In response to suggestions from the public that the ministry consider splitting the budget into three elements and submitting them individually, Liou said the three items could not and would not be separated.

"We need them all and we need to buy them together," Liou said. "We definitely will not divide the budget into three parts and process them one at a time."

The ministry has been trying to get legislative approval for the special arms budget since last summer. Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) even tried to stake his career on its passage by threatening to resign if it wasn't approved by the end of last month when the legislative session ended.

However, Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) kept Lee on when he reshuffled the Cabinet.

According to the ministry, if the country does not purchase any submarines before 2010, analysis has shown that the military will no longer be able to defend the Taiwan Strait.

A majority of lawmakers have urged the government to build submarines here.

Lee, however, has said that the country does not have the ability to test-drive and maintain a submarine, although he believes that it can build them.

According to the arms deal offered by the US, Washington will find a submarine manufacturer because US manufacturers no longer produce diesel submarines. However, Taipei has to confirm the deal with a down payment.

"That is why we hope that this budget can be approved as soon as possible," Lee said.

To persuade the public to support the arms deal, the ministry had produced a wide variety of publication on the procurement budget and invited local and foreign media to a luncheon briefing by Lee.

"It is still our hope that this proposal will be approved by the Legislative Yuan as soon as possible," Liou said.

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