Saturday, September 19, 2009

Foreign Presence Shrinks at TADTE



Foreign Presence Shrinks at TADTE


In the 1957 science-fiction film, “The Incredible Shrinking Man” is exposed to a radioactive cloud and pesticide. The result: an unstoppable shrinking process that alienates him from family and friends.

In many ways, Taiwan suffers the same fate. The economic, diplomatic and political power Beijing wields alienates and isolates Taiwan from the international community.

The result was obvious during the Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE), scheduled Aug. 16-19 at the Taipei World Trade Center. Organized by the Taiwan External Trade Development Council and Reed Exhibitions, the show is billed as Taiwan’s largest defense exhibition. However, many believe it was washed out long before Super-typhoon Sepat (Category 5) hit the island late on the first day.

Only six foreign defense companies exhibited this year, an all-time low: France’s Dassault Aviation and U.S. firms ITT, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney and Raytheon. Missing this year were BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, General Dynamics Land Systems, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Sikorsky, Thales and a mix of Israeli and other smaller European firms, all of which traditionally have had booths at TADTE.

U.S. defense companies in Taiwan have been complaining about low arms sales for years, and with the lure of commercial business opportunities in China, some have quipped, “the last one out, turn off the lights.”

Critics at the show blamed China’s increasing economic influence on the world’s markets. Boeing recently signed a $500 million manufacturing contract with four Chinese companies to produce components for the 747 and 787 aircraft, and Sikorsky signed an agreement in July with Changhe Aircraft Industries to supply S-76 helicopter airframes.

Ironically, both companies have been working quietly through local Taiwanese agents to sell Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks to the Army via the indirect U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.

Others also blame Taiwan’s legislature for turning a 2001 Bush administration offer to sell Taiwan eight diesel submarines, 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-3 missile batteries into a political football. Opponents of pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian blocked the budget more than 60 times since 2004 before the P-3s were approved earlier this year. The blockage caused a rift between the U.S. government and Taiwan, with Washington accusing Taipei of not taking its defense seriously.

Taiwan sent a legislative delegation to Washington on Aug. 14 to discuss the future of the submarine offer with Pentagon and State Department officials. Many believe the delegation will meet with resistance and criticism for past reluctance to pass the budget.

“This visit will determine the ultimate fate of an issue,” one U.S. defense contractor at TADTE said.

Taiwan is now pushing to buy 66 F-16s to replace the Air Force’s aging F-5 Tigers. However, the United States is reluctant to release the F-16s due to fears that pro-China forces in Taiwan’s legislature will continue to block further U.S. arms buys. Taiwan officials worry that failure to secure the F-16s from the Bush administration prior to the 2008 U.S. presidential election could delay any release indefinitely.

There is so much skepticism the United States will release the fighters to Taiwan that U.S. defense contractors, local analysts and officials have jokingly called Taiwan “fantasy island.”

MND Pavilion

Despite the doom and despair, TADTE provided some insights into Taiwan’s indigenous weapon production programs, an option to the slow decline in international arms sale opportunities.

More than half of the floor space was occupied by the Ministry of National Defense (MND), whose pavilion displayed indigenous wares produced by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), Combined Logistics Command and the Material Production Center, subdivided into Air Force, Army and Navy sections.

CSIST displayed the Chung-Hsiang UAV, the new Blue Magpie mini-UAV system, Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind) anti-ship missile, Tien Kung (Sky Bow) air defense missile (modeled after the U.S. PAC-2), the Flamingo Model II target drone and a new low-altitude, self-propelled mobile air defense system armed with Tien Chien (Sky Sword) missiles.

The Combined Logistics Command exhibited two new versions of the eight-wheeled CM-32 Clouded Leopard (Yunpao), a 105mm low-recoil turret gun and a 40mm grenade launcher turret. The Army plans to produce up to 500 CM-32s to replace aging M113 tracked and four-wheeled V-150 vehicles.

The Material Production Center displayed a new 155mm self-propelled howitzer equipped with an advanced fire-control system using both an inertial navigation system and GPS receiver.

The Army showed off its M48H/M60A3 tank gunner and driver simulation, automatic rifle shooting simulator, and a variety of small arms, including the 5.56mm T91 combat rifle, 9mm T75K1 pistol and the 7.62mm T93 sniper rifle.

The Navy exhibited simulators for the P-3C Orion and S-70 anti-submarine warfare aircraft. It also showed the Dual Connection Splinter Missile and the MK153 anti-armor rocket.

The Air Force displayed a wide range of missiles, including the AIM-7 Sparrow, AGM-84 Harpoon and AGM-65B Maverick missiles.

The state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC), which produced the Indigenous Defense Fighter, is in discussions with the Air Force to upgrade 60 of the planes. The service fears that Washington will delay the release of F-16s, and an upgrade may be its only option. An AIDC source said the program includes reinforcing the landing gear, extended-range fuel tanks, advanced avionics and radar.