Tue, Nov 07, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Feature: Ever-changing arms deal still contentious

TRY, TRY AGAIN Since the US released three major weapons systems for sale to Taiwan, efforts by the Chen administration to purchase them have met difficulties

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

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for the 12 P-3Cs and the eight subs only -- is still before the legislature, although the Cabinet requested it be withdrawn on Oct. 19.

Partial funding

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 (鄭文燦) said the government is doing whatever it takes to get this proposal approved.

"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.

Unlikely

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 (林郁芳), who also serves on the legislature's National Defense Committee.

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