Taiwan to get 12 US anti-submarine aircraft by mid-2015

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan is on track to take delivery of 12 anti-submarine aircraft from the United States by mid-2015, a report said on Wednesday, as it seeks to beef up its naval defences against China.

Navy Chief of Staff Vice-Admiral Hsu Pei-shan spelt out the timeframe when asked by a lawmaker about a possible delay in the delivery of the aircraft, the state Central News Agency reported.

Washington agreed in 2007 to sell Taiwan the refurbished P-3C Orion patrol aircraft, which reportedly will expand the surveillance range of Taipei's anti-submarine fleet tenfold.

The P-3C fleet, which will cost just under US$2 billion (S$2.5 billion), is intended to replace the island's ageing S-2T anti-submarine aircraft.

Delivery of the first five of the 12 aircraft was originally set for 2012, followed by two others in 2013, four more in 2014 and the last one in 2015, according to lawmaker Ma Wen Chun of the parliament's defence committee.

Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since Mr Ma Ying Jeou became Taiwan's president in 2008 on a China-friendly platform.

However, Beijing still regards the island as part of its territory and has refused to rule out the use of force against self-ruled Taiwan. The two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.

In response, Taiwan has built up a defence force equipped with weapons acquired mostly from the United States, despite Washington's switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Defence officials were not immediately available for comment.

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