Taiwan’s Navy is seeking to procure new anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters via the US Foreign Military Sales program, DefenseNews reported citing a local defense industry source.
According to sources, the Taipei is looking to get eight to 10 MH-60R Seahawk ASW helicopters to replace its aging MD500 “Defender” helicopters in a deal estimated at $700 to $800 million. An announcement is expected by the end of this year and a possible letter of acceptance by 2016.
The MH-60R Seahawk – dubbed the world’s most advanced maritime helicopter – is currently deployed by the U.S. Navy as the primary anti-submarine warfare anti-surface weapons system for open ocean and littoral zones. In addition to detecting and prosecuting modern submarines and conducting anti-surface warfare missions, it can also be used for search and rescue, vertical replenishment and medical evacuation as well.
If the deal does go through, Taiwan would be the third international customer to have the U.S. helicopter in its inventory, after Australia and Denmark. The helicopters would serve as an important new capability for the country’s navy, eventually replacing the aging MD500 Defender helicopters procured in 1980. The MH-60R Seahawks are designed to operate from frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carries, and the Taiwanese Navy would be able to place the helicopters on board ships to boost their anti-ship capabilities.
Furthermore, as Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, told DefenseNews, if the MH-60R LoR is accepted this fall, it would be the first new program for new equipment from the United States to Taiwan since autumn 2006. While the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act calls for the Washington to provide equipment for Taiwan’s defense, arms sales have in fact been slow to materialize.
This is alarming considering the growing cross-strait military imbalance as China builds up its capabilities – designed in part to prepare for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait – and Taipei underinvests in its own defense. Earlier this year, Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense Yen Ming told the national legislature that the military could withstand an assault by China for just around a month – a vivid illustration of just how much the balance has shifted against Taiwan in this respect.