After opposition parties gave mixed signals about a long-stalled US arms procurement deal, many have begun to wonder whether Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will keep his word that his party will let the arms deal pass.
The military arms procurement budget proposal was approved by the Bush Administration in 2001, and was first submitted to the legislature by the Cabinet in 2004.
It was initially proposed as a special budget worth NT$610.8 billion (US$16 billion), including six Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) anti-missile batteries with 384 missiles, 12 P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and eight diesel-electric submarines.
This proposal has been pending at the legislature ever since as the majority of lawmakers -- mostly opposition party members -- complained about the cost of the deal and continued to veto it.
In its initial incarnation, the deal was submitted by the Cabinet to the legislature as a NT$610.8 billion (US$16 billion) special budget.
After a series of revisions and price cuts, the latest effort to procure the weapons systems has taken the form of a NT$6.2 billion supplemental budget, which would provide initial funding for only part of the three programs.
The supplemental budget includes initial funding for the purchase of the P-3Cs, the upgrading of PAC-2 anti-missile batteries, and partial funding for the submarine design, as well as NT$700 million for building an airstrip on Taiping Island.
Muddying the waters is the fact that the special budget -- reduced to NT$340 billion for the 12 P-3Cs and the eight subs only -- is still before the legislature, although the Cabinet requested it be withdrawn on Oct. 19.
In addition to partial funding for the three major items being included in the supplemental budget request, the MND has also included funding for most parts of the proposal in its annual budget.
Cabinet Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (
"We trimmed it to NT$6.3 billion. The secret is that we changed the contents a little bit," Cheng said.
In fact, the end price of the three items -- about US$17 billion -- hasn't changed at all. The only thing that has changed is the accounting, and the scope of the requests by the MND.
In its current incarnation, the procurement deal's original plan to buy eight subs (for about US$12 billion) has become a request to only buy a submarine feasibility study (for about US$200 million). The plan to buy six PAC-3 anti-missile batteries (for about US$4 billion) has become a plan to upgrade Taiwan's existing PAC-2 system. Only the plan to buy the 12 P-3C aircraft (for about US$1 billion) remains the same.
If the current plan were approved in its entirety, the total cost of the items requested would have to be paid for over a five-year period, from a series of different budget requests.
But opposition lawmakers are unlikely to approve the current, scaled back request in its entirety. Thus far, they have eliminated from the annual defense budget the entire funding for the PAC-2 missile upgrades, but kept the budget for the submarine study and P-3C aircraft.
"We are not opposed to the idea of buying new weapons. We are opposed to the idea of spending so much money when we do not actually have to," said KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (
The People First Party (PFP), however, is against the proposal in its entirety.
"The result of the referendum in 2004 has vetoed the idea to buy a missile system. Buying submarines costs too much, which would be a stupid idea," PFP Legislator Chao Liang-yen (趙良燕) said. "As for the maritime aircraft, we decided to veto it as well, because more than one arms dealer began to fight over the business. In addition, American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young's remarks pissed us off."
Up in arms
On Oct. 26, the US' de facto ambassador held a press conference in which he urged lawmakers to approve the procurement deal. Some opposition lawmakers were up in arms over his remarks, branding them interference in Taiwan's affairs.
Among the items that the country is planning to purchase, the budget for the P-3Cs is the portion which is expected to be approved first.
On Nov. 1, the Taoyuan military air force base became a naval airport and the military is planning to make it a maritime-patrol aircraft only airport. Although the plan was not confirmed by the MND, the S-2Ts -- the country's current maritime patrol aircraft -- have been seen taking off and landing at the airport for the past few days.
Sources said that among the 12 P-3Cs, three aircraft are actually configured as "E-P3" models -- the same type of aircraft that collided with a Chinese jetfighter on April 1, 2001.
"Among all the items in the arms procurement plan, this is what we really want to buy," said a military source, on condition of anonymity.
The military source told the Taipei Times that the E-P3 can stay in the sky for 28 consecutive hours. Once it is up in the air, it can monitor all radio communication within a radius of 500km.
"Everybody hates it because there are no secrets when it is around," the source said.
Vice Admiral Tung Hsiang-lung (
"S-2Ts are too old. Most of the manufacturers closed the production lines for S-2Ts parts," Tung said. "P-3 series aircraft remain in service in the US. It will be easier for us to maintain the aircraft."
Tung said the navy is expecting the P-3 series to remain in services for at least 20 years.
Additional reporting by Mac William Bishop
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