Taiwan grounds new US-made choppers over malfunction fears

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan on Wednesday grounded its new fleet of US-made Apache attack helicopters for checks after a notice from Washington warning the model could malfunction.

"There was some malfunctioning of the planes in the US army last week so we are doing some special checks now. (The helicopters) can resume flying once the checks are completed," Defence Minister Yen Ming told a parliamentary meeting.

The US will pay for testing and repair fees, he added.

It is just five days since Taiwan's military displayed the new AH-64E Apache helicopters to the public in a high-profile ceremony presided over by President Ma Ying-jeou, who pledged to maintain a "solid defence force" despite warming ties with former arch-rival China.

Taiwan last month received the first six of 30 Apache helicopters bought from the US while the remainder will be delivered by the end of 2014.

The Taiwanese army is the first force outside the United States to introduce the AH-64E variant. The choppers were part of a US$6.5 billion (S$8.2 billion) arms deal announced in 2008 that irked Beijing.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war. However, Beijing still regards the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, prompting Taipei to seek more weaponry - mainly from Washington.

Tensions with China have eased markedly since Mr Ma came to power on a Beijing-friendly platform in 2008. He was re-elected last year.