Sun, Aug 31, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Defense minister reveals arms budget

PROCUREMENT Taiwan's weapons wish list is an expensive one raising questions as to whether Taiwan can really afford the means to defend itself properly

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO: REUTERS

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) is to make a budget request in 2005 for the purchase of the US-made Patriot PAC-3 air defense system, defense minister Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) said yesterday.

The Patriot PAC-3 has been proven to be a reliable system through repeated tests and actual combat experience in the US strike on Iraq in March, Tang said.

Besides the Patriot PAC-3, Tang also announced that the MND has included the purchase plans for a C4ISR (command, control, communication, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) system and a long-range early warning radar system in the proposed defense budget for 2004.

The C4ISR system is to cost around NT$49 billion, while the long-range early warning radar system around NT$25 billion, reports said. The cost for the Patriot PAC-3 has yet to be set by the US. A quotation for the system is not available until sometime before next August, Tang said.

Tang said the ministry expected to complete a purchase plan for the system by the end of the year.

"But no budget plans could be made for the moment for the purchase. The cost for the PAC-3 will not be known until sometime before next August. So, we will not be able to make our budget request for the purchase of the PAC-3 until 2005," he said.

Tang made the remarks yesterday at a press conference he called for the purpose of paying respect to the press prior to Journalists' Day, Monday.

Arms purchases were the focus of attention. The Patriot PAC-3, diesel-electric submarines, and P-3C anti-submarine warfare aircraft, the major items on the MND's shopping list, were frequently asked about.

"We want to buy the PAC-3 mainly to defend against the ballistic missile threat from China. China is now deploying around 500 ballistic missiles against Taiwan across the strait," Tang said.

"As the PAC-3 is to become part of our missile defense shield, we will not give up our plans to develop a missile defense system on our own," he said.

As to the diesel-electric submarine and P-3C aircraft, the progress of acquisition has not gone well.

"Due to pressure from China, we face a lot of difficulties in the process of looking for a supplier of the submarine. We have not determined what sort of submarine we want since it depends on what we can get," Tang said.

"The P-3C aircraft is not easily available, either. If we want to buy new aircraft of the kind, the cost will be very high since the US has to re-open a production line for these aircraft," he said.

"We are looking for alternative solutions. We do not object to leasing or buying second-hand aircraft." The Patriot PAC-3, the submarine, and P-3C aircraft, because of their high costs, are to be purchased through a special budget that the MND is to ask from the Cabinet

The special budget was initially reported to be made ready next year, but Tang's remarks yesterday suggest the situation is much more complicated than it looks.

The MND might need a special budget of over NT$700 billion, rather than the NT$520 billion so far reported, for the purchase of these three top-of-the-wish-list weapons systems, since the submarine purchase alone would cost at least NT$400 billion according to estimates by the navy.

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