Procurement: August 2, 2004


As Taiwan prepares for the biggest weapons purchase in its history, resistance from both within and without continues. With President Bushs continuing pledge to sell to Taiwan updated naval, air, and missile systems, elements in both Taipei and Beijing who oppose such a move have ratcheted-up their condemnations. Approximately 1,000 pro-communist demonstrators in Taiwan demonstrated noisily against this potential sale after it was announced in the islands press.

In June a delegation of Taiwanese visited a Texas missile base and held talks to negotiate an arms deal worth $18 billion over the next 10-15 years. Included in this would be eight new submarines, a modified version of the Patriot anti-missile system, and ten P-3C aircraft (although they would undoubtedly be high-time airframe airplanes considering the US Navys ongoing problems in this area). Reportedly, the Nationalist Chinese were surprised by the head of the US Pacific Command when he suggested arming Taiwan with the highly proprietary Aegis anti-missile system, the first time in several years the delegates had heard that the US was considering such a sale. Taipei has wanted the system for years, but Washington has always denied the request because of the sensitivity of the technology and the threats and screeches from the cranky octogenarians running Beijing. Selling Taipei Aegis-equipped ships now would, some say, both benefit the US suppliers of the system while energizing the strongly pro-Taiwan wing of the Republican Party as the November US elections approach.

While Taiwan's Minister of National Defence has reiterated his desire to obtain Aegis for his country, Taiwan has also pursued an alternate course to build its own Aegis surrogate if such a sale is not possible. Three years ago, Taiwan announced the capability of building its own Aegis-equipped destroyers as long as the US would supply key software technology. At that time, Tiawan had had experience building its eight Chengkung-class frigates, based upon the US Perry-class. Perry-class frigates are designed primarily for open-ocean escort of amphibious ships and convoys and can provide limited anti-submarine and anti-cruise missile defense

In addition to the Chengkung-class frigates, as of 2001, six Lafayette-class frigates have been purchased from France and six Knox-class frigates have been leased from the US. In 2002, the US Congress approved for sale to Taiwan the US Navys four inactivated Kidd-class destroyers for approximately $732 million. While the 9,600 ton ex-Kidds carry formidable anti-air defenses, they are not Aegis ships and carry the less capable SM-2 missile system. 

Lacking access to Aegis, Taiwan came up with the Tien Tan (Alter of Heaven) Advanced Combat System. If approved, the first ship would be commissioned in 2008 at the earliest. The ROC Navy had previously considered upgrading the eighth Cheng Kung-class missile frigate to a mini-Aegis capability using an upgraded AN/SPY-1 radar but found the hull was too small to accommodate the system and related weapons. Any such ship would be similar in size and configuration to Arleigh Burke- or Lafayette-class ships. 

Before the latest meeting in the US, the US government had been discussing a program for Taiwan to acquire Aegis if Taipei agreed to build the ship. Such a project might be based on South Korea's KDX-3 Aegis destroyer program, providing work for both Korean and Taiwan shipyards. K.B. Sherman


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