DN - Defence Notes

Taiwan stitches together F-35 request

18th August 2017 - 10:08 GMT | by Wendell Minnick in Taipei

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Taiwan is preparing to draft a request for price and availability for F-35 fighters to replace its ageing Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters, now numbering 56 from the original 60 procured during the 1990s. 

Sources at the biennial Taipei Aerospace and Defence Technology Exhibition (TADTE), held from 17-19 August, indicate Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen was buoyed by her congratulatory phone call to US President Donald Trump in December, which may have given her administration a false sense of hope for continued US arms sales.

Proponents of the Lockheed Martin F-35 have even created a military-style patch with the Taiwan flag on it (pictured).

Taiwan’s air force has indicated it wants to procure the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant. 

The requirement for STOVL comes from the assumption that China would put Taiwan’s airbases and runways out of action with its short-range ballistic missile arsenal, land-attack cruise missiles and air-launched precision munitions in any conflict.

A former US intelligence officer said that there are growing concerns inside the Pentagon that Taiwan cannot be trusted with sophisticated US technology due to the high rate of espionage cases involving China. 

Additionally, out of fears of angering Beijing, the US refused to release F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters to Taiwan in its bid to replace the 144 F-16A/B Block 20 aircraft procured during the 1990s. 

Instead, the US released a midlife upgrade programme that included Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR).

Taiwanese defence industry sources at TADTE indicated that Taiwan will have to build its own fighter aircraft to replace the Mirage, but will need a US partner to design and develop the aircraft. 

At present, the aircraft is only referred to as the Advanced Indigenous Defence Fighter (AIDF). State-run Aerospace Industries Development Corporation (AIDC) built the original IDF in the 1990s and has just completed a midlife upgrade for the aircraft.

The AIDF would have a stealthy profile and advanced avionics, but it would have to develop its own munitions, said a former Taiwan air force officer. 

‘That should not be a problem, since many of the munitions already on the original IDF can be transferred and upgraded,’ he said. 

The state-run National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) has produced a wide range of missiles and munitions for the IDF, including anti-radiation, air defence and precision ground strike.

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