Defense industry sources yesterday denied a report filed last week that Taiwan had decided to drop a plan to purchase a second early-warning radar (EWR) from the US, saying the decision had been made several years ago.
Citing “military authorities,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Tuesday that the Ministry of National Defense had abandoned plans to add a second EWR to its inventory.
The story began more than a decade ago, when Taiwan launched efforts to improve its surveillance capabilities under what came to be known as the Surveillance Radar Program (SRP).
After four years of intense debate, in November 2003, a still-divided legislature agreed to set aside US$800 million for the acquisition of one EWR from the US. In March the following year, Washington responded with a US$1.77 billion notification to Congress, which provided an option for two ultra-high-frequency long-range EWRs.
US-based Raytheon Corp won a US$752 million contract in June 2005 for Taiwan’s first EWR, with construction in Leshan (樂山), Hsinchu County, beginning in 2009. With its 3,000km range and ability to track as many as 1,000 ballistic and air-breathing targets simultaneously, the by-now US$1 billion-plus EWR, which is expected to become operational by the end of this year, has been described as possibly the most powerful on the planet.
The project has not been without controversy over the years, primarily over rising construction and maintenance costs, with Raytheon requesting an additional US$200 million last year. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) last week called on the ministry to “stand tough in negotiating the price with the US,” adding that otherwise the radar could become “a pestering ‘money pit.’”
Despite the cost overruns, Taiwan has said it remains committed to the SRP.
According to last week’s AFP report, anger over rising costs nevertheless led to a decision to abandon plans to purchase a second radar system.
“The minister [of national defense] has said there won’t be another one,” an Air Force spokesman told AFP of the second radar, which would reportedly have been built near Greater Kaohsiung.
However, as reported in the C4ISR Journal and in an annual report by the Congressional Research Service, rather than being a recent decision taken by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, which critics have often accused of being soft on defense, Taiwan abandoned plans to acquire a second EWR in early 2007, when the Democratic Progressive Party was in power, though it had faced a KMT-dominated legislature at the time.
Part of the confusion comes from a misunderstanding of US congressional notifications on foreign arms sales, which do not oblige a client to purchase all the articles optioned in the notification, but only serve as a list of items that have been made available for purchase.
Asked to comment on the matter yesterday, a defense industry source confirmed that the decision not to procure a second EWR was made in 2007 and had nothing to do with recent developments.
“This is old news,” the source told the Taipei Times.