Taiwan’s army will acquire 30 Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters for $2.6 billion instead of buying more Cobras, service project planning director Col. Dai Kuang-chao said July 10 at a Ministry of National Defense press conference.The program, already five years late, still awaits U.S. government approval, while the Taiwanese legislature is expected to approve the budget only in 2008 or 2009, and may delay longer. Nevertheless, the Army’s choice is seen as a milestone.Taiwan has two Army Helicopter Groups (Shinsu and Lungtan) that fly 62 AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters, about 80 aging UH-1H Huey utility aircraft and nine OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scouts. Equipped with anti-armor missiles for use against troop transports, the Apaches will help meet the Army’s new mission of confronting invading Chinese forces off the coast with 40 minutes of warning.Critics say the Apaches are not a cost-effective choice, given Taiwan’s economic slump and limited defense budget. They say the aircraft require too much maintenance, as well as a completely new training curriculum and support structure from the Cobras. Taiwan’s local Bell Helicopter representative expressed regret for the decision, citing Bell’s long history of co-development and manufacture of aircraft with state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation. Bell had offered AIDC a co-assembly option for 30 AH-1Z Cobra heavy attack helicopters, plus upgrades of existing AH-1Ws to the AH-1Z configuration. In February 2004, AIDC signed a $10 million contract with Bell to manufacture 280 tail booms/elevators for the U.S. Marine Corps’ new Bell AH-1Z Cobra and UH-1Y Huey. There had been hopes in AIDC and Bell that the new UH-1Y would be selected over the UH-60. AIDC has suffered from financial problems over recent years due to a steady decrease of military and civilian orders.MND sources said they are waiting on price and availability data from the U.S. government on Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to replace the army’s UH-1Hs.The Taiwan navy operates two squadrons of Sikorsky S-70C anti-submarine warfare helicopters with the 701st Thunder Hawk Sq and the 702nd Magic Hawk Squadron, and the air force has three search-and-rescue S-70C Blue Hawks at Chiayi Airbase and two VIP transport S-70Cs at Sungshan Airbase, Taipei. The navy also has nine MD 500 anti-submarine helicopters assigned to the 501st Squadron in Kaohsiung.