Thursday, November 16, 2006

Taiwan to Upgrade IDF Fighters?

Wendell Minnick has another good article in Defense News. Minnick is based in Taipei.


Taiwan Considers IDF Upgrade
Decision Follows Rebuff on F-16 Block 50 Purchase

After years of resisting the idea, Taiwan's Air Force is taking a second look at a proposal to upgrade its F-CK-1 A/B Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), or Ching-kuo, into C/D "joint strike fighters."

The reversal comes after U.S. officials rejected Taiwan's request for price and availability information for Block 50/52 F-16s. Air Force officials had sought 60 of the Lockheed Martin jets to replace the same number of aging F-5 Tigers.

"The Air Force is thinking about what to do. They are doing a study on the feasibility of using the IDF upgrade as an interim fighter until the F-35s are available in 2015," said a source with Taiwan's state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC).


Taiwan's Air Force, which has a stated minimum force requirement of 400
fighters, comprises 146 Block 20 F-16s, 128 IDFs, 56 Mirage 2000-5s and
roughly 60 F-5s.

Many in Taiwan are backing the Soaring Upgrade program as a way to keep local defense industry capable of making complex weapons. They note that the United States is the only country that still permits large-scale arms sales directly to Taiwan, and wonder whether China's rising influence might sway U.S. officials.

One U.S. defense source in Taipei argues that Taiwan needs to strengthen its own indigenous weapon production capability and slowly cut the umbilical cord with Washington.[hmmm....I think I know who that might be! -- MT]

"What they [U.S.] should do is encourage Taiwan's defense industry. This includes providing assistance in R&D of more exotic weapons, such as missiles. We should be all over this project [the IDF upgrade]. We should be helping the Taiwanese, not selling them stuff they don't need or can make themselves."

Program History
The upgrade program was conceived as part of President Chen Shui-bian's 2000 "offshore engagement policy," which shifted the traditional strategy of defending air and sea boundaries to that of projecting air power into mainland China.

The upgrade allows the IDF to carry an additional 771 kilograms of fuel and payload, doubles the loadout of Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword) air-to-air missiles to four, and adds the ability to carry the Tien Chien 2A anti-radiation missile and the Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) cluster bomb, both produced by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology.


Washington's rejection of Taipei's F-16 request may be related to U.S. disappointment that Taiwan has not yet accepted a longstanding U.S. offer to buy P-3 Orion maritime patrol planes and submarines, plus fear of offending Beijing.


Taiwan plans to upgrade half of its IDFs and build more C/D Hsiang Sheng models, he said.


Taiwan launched the IDF program in the 1980s after Washington declined a request to buy Northrop F-20s and other advanced U.S. fighters to replace F-104 Starfighters.

Taipei's creation of an indigenous fighter program led U.S. officials to reverse their decision. Taiwan subsequently bought F-16s and French Mirage 2000-5s, and cut IDF production from a planned 250 to 130.

This sent AIDC into a financial tailspin that it has yet to recover from, and allowed many of its engineers and designers to be lured to the T-50 Golden Eagle program of Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin.

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