Taiwan displays new US-made Apache attack helicopters

TAINAN - Taiwan displayed its new fleet of US-made Apache attack helicopters Friday, as President Ma Ying-jeou renewed his backing for the modernisation of the island's forces despite warming ties with China.

Presiding over the ceremony in Tainan, southern Taiwan, Ma insisted "a solid national defence force" was vital.

Six Apache AH-64Es, the latest variant of what the military says is the world's most powerful attack helicopter, were delivered to Taiwan last month and made their long-anticipated debut at a military base in Tainan.

"As the Republic of China is a sovereign state, it has to keep a solid national defence force, which is capable of defending itself and maintaining regional peace," Ma said in a speech, using Taiwan's formal name.

He said although ties with Beijing were at their best in 60 years, Taiwan needed to maintain a lean but deterrent force, a reminder of the constant hostilities between the former rivals.

Taiwan ordered 30 Apache helicopters, the remainder of which 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 order was part of a $6.5 billion arms deal unveiled in 2008 that irked Beijing.

During the display, a fleet of various military helicopters flew in formation past the base.

Later two of the Apache helicopters demonstrated their capabilities in front of Ma and guests.

Tensions between Taipei and Beijing have eased markedly since Ma came to power on a platform of beefing up trade and tourism links.

He was re-elected in January 2012.

Beijing however still regards the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though Taiwan has ruled itself for more than six decades since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

The perceived military threat has prompted Taipei to seek more weaponry, mainly from the United States.