The Coast Guard Administration (CGA) has proposed deploying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) over the disputed Pratas Islands beginning in 2007 to boost the nation's capability to gather intelligence and conduct surveillance and reconnaissance over its territory.
CGA Minister Shi Hwei-yow (
Lin An-tai (
"There are a few companies that producing mature UAVs in the international market. The CGA has asked these companies to offer information about and prices for their UAVs. After examinig this information, the CGA will then be able to decide which type and how many UAVs it would purchase," Lin told the Taipei Times.
A local Chinese-language newspaper, the Apple Daily, yesterday reported that the US firm Bell Helicopter had displayed an interest in producing UAVs for Taiwan, but Lin said he had no knowledge of the matter. Bell Helicopter produces the Eagle Eye UAV for the US Coast Guard.
Lin said having a contingent of UAVs would enhance CGA's capabilities in monitoring the nation's territory.
"A UAV is able to travel for about eight hours, enabling us to view foreign vessels intruding in our waters," Lin said.
Lin noted that while the first UAVs would be based in the Pratas Islands by 2007, the CGA also hoped to have UAVs on its vessels in future.
The Pratas Islands lie in the South China Sea about 444km southwest of Kaohsiung.
Lin said the CGA currently patrols 44km off the Pratas Islands.
The Ministry of National Defense withdrew its Marine units from the Pratas and Spratly islands in 1999, leaving the CGA to guard and patrol those territories.
Taiwan has disputes over the territory and natural resources of the Pratas Islands with neighboring countries, including China.
President Chen Shui-bian (
Taiwanese military experts have said that Chinese exploration vessels frequently appear in waters south of Taiwan to conduct hydrographic research for submarines.
Experts have warned that the waters around the Pratas Islands have strategic significance for Taiwan, because the submarines of Beijing's South China Sea fleet must pass the Pratas Islands to enter the waters southwest of Taiwan, or to enter the Pacific Ocean through the Bashi Strait.
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