Taiwan's Navy will take delivery of two U.S.-built P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft next year, according to local media reports.
The military's plan to build a hangar at an air base in Pingtung County in southern Taiwan to accommodate the advanced anti-submarine aircraft, however, has remained on the drawing board, the reports said.
Some military experts said they are afraid that the new anti-submarine aircraft may become "shelterless" once they are delivered to Taiwan.
The Navy dismissed the speculation Friday, saying the so-called "shelterless" scenario would never happen.
Even if the hangar construction project fails to be completed in time, the Navy said, the new P-3Cs can be kept in the Air Force's hangar for C-130H aircraft.
The following are excerpts from a special report on the issue in the Friday edition of the United Evening News:
In 2007, the U.S. government approved the sale of 12 P-3Cs with T-56 tunboprop engines and other associated equipment and services for about US$1.96 billion.
The P-3C is the most capable of Orion version, with superb submarine detection capability.
U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin recently posted a photo on its website, which showed a P-3C Orion aircraft successfully completing its first functional trial flight in late July. The company noted in photo caption that it's the first P-3C to be delivered to Taiwan.
The move drew concern from Taiwan's Navy and the photo has since been removed from the Lockheed Martin website.
While two P-3Cs are scheduled for delivery to Taiwan next year, the military has not yet arranged any bidding for hangar construction.
Military sources said the Ministry of National Defense (MND) intends to put the P-3Cs under the control of Air Force instead of the Navy.
The sources cited unidentified naval officials as saying that they don't know whether to start preparing for an open tender for the hangar construction as the MND may want the Air Force to handle the case.
Meanwhile, naval sources also questioned the ministry's decision to penalize a naval fleet captain for steering a three-frigates fleet out of Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) during a training drill in late July.
While the fleet sailed out of Taiwan's ADIZ, it did not intrude into Japan's territorial seas surrounding its island of Yonaguni.
Although Japan sent its P-3Cs to monitor the Taiwanese fleet, it did not file any protests to Taiwan's government afterwards because the fleet had navigated in open seas throughout its training exercise.
Against this backdrop, the sources said, the defense ministry's decision to punish the fleet's captain Chang Feng-chiang was not justifiable.
The defense ministry issued a statement Friday that it has formed a task force to investigate the incident and has brought the matter to the attention of military prosecutors.
Some naval officials in private that if the ministry takes issue with the country's naval fleets making innocent passage on open seas, how Taiwan can defend its sovereignty claim to the Tiaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by China and Japan.