Tue, Oct 24, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Aircraft deal hinges on US military, officials say

DEFENSE The head of the National Security Council said that Taiwan and the US had to collaborate on the details of the refurbishment of maritime patrol aircraft

By Rich Chang and Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The Ministry of National Defense should take the US military's advice into account when choosing a contractor to refurbish the P-3C maritime patrol aircraft which the ministry plans to purchase from the US, officials said yesterday.

The officials' remarks were made in response to efforts by former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage -- who now works as a lobbyist -- to campaign on behalf of L3 Communications/Integrated Systems to be selected by Taiwan as the preferred contractor for the refurbishing of the aircraft.

The Chinese-language United Evening News reported that Armitage had written to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), National Security Council Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁), Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑), urging them to hold a bidding contest for the contract to refurbish the aircraft.

Chiou yesterday told the legislature's Organic Laws and Statutes Committee that he had not received a letter from Armitage.

However, Chiou said, he had obtained a copy of the letter, but still needed to verify the authenticity of its content.

Chiou yesterday told the committee that "the procurement of P-3C aircraft is an arms-related deal, not a business sale, so it would be decided after deliberations by the defense departments of both countries."

When asked whether he was in favor of Armitage's proposal, Chiou said that it was not up to him to decide.

He added that he played no part in the arms procurement project and that the matter was being handled by the Ministry of National Defense.

Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lee Wen-chung (李文忠), a senior member of the National Defense Committee, told a press conference that the military should authorize its US counterpart to choose a contractor for the refurbishment of the P-3Cs.

"If the US selected a contractor for us promising that the option would not delay the delivery schedule, offering better technical and support solutions, and guaranteeing the navy's requirement of extending the aircraft's operational expectancy by 15,000 hours, then the Taiwanese military should honor the US' selection," Lee said.

However, if the US military is unable to offer the best option for Taiwan, a public bidding process would be a reasonable choice, he said.

According to a copy of Armitage's letter which the Taipei Times obtained from a member of the National Defense Committee, the former US official urged Taiwan to select L3, saying it could provide a superior platform as it had for South Korea and New Zealand.

He also said that the navy should ask the US Navy to request that the prgoram be opened to competition, adding that he believed the US would agree to suvch a request.P>

Taiwan has proposed the purchase of 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft from the US. Under the new budget bill, the Cabinet has earmarked NT$1.6 billion (US$48.2 million) for the purchase of the aircraft.

The Presidential Office said yesterday that President Chen Shui-bian had not received any letter from Armitage regarding the arms procurement package.

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