Tue, Aug 07, 2007 - Page 2 News List

KMT legislators angered by rumors of AEGIS purchase

DETAILS Su Chi and Shuai Hua-min said they had not been informed ahead of time that a visit to the US would include a trip to a major shipyard

AGENCIES , TAIPEI

Two Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers said yesterday that they would turn down a Ministry of National Defense invitation to visit the US to avoid appearing to endorse the ministry's plans to procure US weapons systems.

The Chinese-language United Daily News reported yesterday that Taiwan intends to buy at least six AEGIS-equipped destroyers from the US at a cost of more than US$4.6 billion.

The navy could buy an additional two destroyers on top of the initial six, the report said.

The article said that Deputy Defense Minister Ko Cheng-heng (柯承亨) and Chief of the General Staff Chen Yung-kang (陳永康) would travel to the US later this month to try to secure the deal.

KMT Legislator Su Chi (蘇起) said he would boycott the trip, which was proposed prior to rumors of the procurement appearing in the press, on the grounds that the ministry had altered the itinerary to include a visit to a shipyard where AEGIS-equipped warships are built and because legislators had not previously been informed that Ko and his aides would accompany them.

Su complained that agreeing to visit the shipyard would be tantamount to endorsing the procurement of the AEGIS-equipped Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. He also said that ministry officials would outnumber legislators on the trip.

Likening the ministry to "a magician who produces rabbits and doves from his top hat without notice," Su said he wondered what else the ministry would do once the legislators, who are from across the political spectrum, were in the US.

KMT Legislator Shuai Hua-min (帥化民) said Taiwan did not need AEGIS-equipped warships, adding that the Navy could not afford the ships and lacked the ability to maintain them.

Moreover, Shuai said, AEGIS-equipped warships were designed to execute long-range anti-missile missions over distances exceeding 900km, far larger than the extent of Taiwan's territorial waters.

The defense ministry declined to comment on the report.

The AEGIS air defense radar and weapons system is capable of tracking and attacking dozens of missiles, aircraft and ships all at once.

The US, the nation's main arms supplier, in 2001 put off a request from Taipei to buy four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with the AEGIS system, but kept the option open should China pose a sufficient threat.

However, Washington has become increasingly frustrated by Taiwanese lawmakers' long delay in passing a budget to buy key weapons platforms.

It consequently declined to approve a request last year by Taipei to buy 66 F-16 fighter jets unless the budget was passed.

Taiwan's legislature in June approved only a fraction of the stalled budget to buy the US weapons, which include 12 P-3C anti-submarine planes and upgraded PAC II anti-missile systems.

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