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TAIWAN HOPES TO JOIN U.S.-INITIATED JSF DEVELOPMENT PLAN: MND

2004-06-21 21:03:06

    Taipei, June 21 (CNA) The Ministry of National Defense (MND) has informed the United States of its desire to take part in the development of a new generation of combat aircraft known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), Defense Minister Lee Jye said Monday.

    Lee made the remarks during a luncheon with local journalists, the first time that he has met with the press since assuming office a month ago.

    Lee said the JSF is still in the research and development (R&D) stage and that the program will take 10 to 15 years to complete. "We hope to join this ambitious development program. But no concrete progress has been made. The two sides are still discussing the feasibility of Taiwan's participation in the project, " Lee told reporters.

    According to Lee, the JSF project is designed to develop a new generation of affordable stealth tactical warplanes for the 21st Century.

    Touching on the military's new arms procurement plans, Lee said the MND usually uses its annual budget of about NT$260 billion to finance its weaponry procurement projects, such as the purchase of four second-hand Kidd-class destroyers.

    Nevertheless, Lee said, the MND must rely on special budget plans for certain large-scale arms procurement projects because its regular annual budget is not enough to finance such unexpected spending.

    For instance, Lee said, the MND has come up with a special military budget of NT$610.8 billion (US$18.2 billion) for the purchase of eight submarines, a modified version of the Patriot PAC-III anti-missile system and a squadron of 12 P3-C anti-submarine aircraft over a 15-year period starting in 2005. The United States offered to sell the military hardware to Taiwan in 2001 as part of its most comprehensive arms package to the island since 1992. The Cabinet has approved the special budget bill, which is now pending approval of the opposition-controlled Legislative Yuan.

    A legislative delegation, headed by Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng, is presently on a U.S. visit to get a better understanding of the functions of the military hardware the Bush administration is offering. Delegation members said after visiting a U.S. naval base in Hawaii over the weekend that the United States might also be willing to sell Taiwan the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer equipped with the extremely advanced Aegis radar system.

    If the United States will truly sell the Aegis-class destroyer to Taiwan, Lee said, the ROC navy will use its regular annual budget to finance the purchase and will not ask for additional budget.

    Lee said mainland China's military budget has continued to grow at a double-digit rate. In contrast, he said, Taiwan's defense budget has been maintained at roughly the same level in recent years.

    In the face of mainland China's ever-mounting military threat, Lee said, the military needs the three new arms procurement projects to upgrade its defense capabilities. He said he hopes lawmakers and the public will support the projects.

(By Sofia Wu)

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