Taipei: The first of a dozen anti-submarine aircraft are set to go into service in Taiwan next year, local media reported on Sunday, as East Asian governments look to counter an increasingly assertive China.
Washington agreed in 2007 to sell the refurbished P-3C Orion patrol aircraft, along with three non-operational machines for spares, and "the first ones will be delivered beginning next year”, the Taipei-based China Times said.
"The surveillance range of Taiwan`s anti-submarine fleet will expand tenfold after the P-3Cs join the Navy," it quoted an unnamed military source as saying.
Taiwan`s Navy declined to comment on the report.
The P-3C fleet, which costs around USD 1.96 billion, is intended to replace the island`s ageing S-2T anti-submarine aircraft.
Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party became president in May 2008, promising to improve trade with and tourism from the mainland.
Beijing still insists the island is nothing more than a renegade territory and has refused to rule out the use of force in its recapture, despite more than six decades of self-governance.
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.
In January, Washington announced a weapons package for Taiwan that includes Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and equipment for Taiwan`s F-16 fleet, but no submarines or new fighter aircraft.
Several governments in East Asia have begun expressing disquiet about China`s growing military might and its ballooning military spending.
Beijing`s increasing assertiveness in territorial disputes -- notably in its two-month-long spat with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea -- have also raised concerns in regional capitals about future security.