Taipei Air Show Offers Surprise Display of Hardware
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
Taiwan showed off to the public its arsenal of fighters, helicopters, missiles and bombs Sept. 2 at the Sungshan Air Force Base in Taipei City in what many are calling an attempt by the government to display its air combat prowess to Beijing and Washington. The air show was part of Armed Forces Day scheduled for Sept. 3.
Dignitaries attending the air show included President Chen Shui-bian and Minister of National Defense Lee Tien-yu. Defense officials from the American Institute of Taiwan, the U.S. de facto embassy, were also in attendance.
Though the air show is held every year, this is the first time in 15 years the show included fighters and munitions. In the past, fighter aircraft were barred from Taipei City air space due to fears there would be an accident and quiet concerns the military would use them in a coup.
The flight demonstration included F-16s, Mirage-2000-5s, Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) and Tzu Chung AT-3 Attack Trainers. Fighter aircraft on static display represented several Tactical Fighter Wings (TFW), including an IDF from the 427th TFW, an F-16 from the 401st TFW, a Mirage 2000-5 from the 499th TFW and an AT-3 from the Thunder Tigers aerial demonstration squadron. Others on display included a C-130 from the 101st Tactical Transport Squadron, Fokker 50 and Beech 1900C VIP transport aircraft from the Special Transport Squadron, E-2T Hawkeye from the 439th Composite Wing and S-70C SAR and VIP helicopters based at Sungshan.
Noticeably missing from the show was the air force’s roughly sixty F-5 Tiger fighters from the 737th TFW. Taiwan is attempting to replace these ageing aircraft with 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters. However, the U.S. has been hesitant to release them to Taiwan due to political concerns arising from President Chen Shui-bian’s call for a referendum on Taiwan joining the United Nations. Sources say the F-16s are expected to be released after Chen leaves office in 2008.
A parachute demonstration from a CH-47 helicopter was made by the army’s Aviation and Special Force Command. Activated in 2003, Taiwan’s nine Boeing CH-47SD Chinooks replaced three ageing B-234 transport helicopters. Taiwan’s army is currently debating the purchase of Bell UH-1Y or Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to replace aging UH-1H helicopters. The army recently announced the selection of the Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopters to augment two squadrons of Bell AH-1W Super Cobras. A budget for 30 Apaches is expected to be submitted in 2008.
Displayed munitions included the AIM-9M Sidewinder, AIM-7M Sparrow, AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM, AGM-65B Maverick, AGM-84G Harpoon, MK-20 Rockeye cluster bomb, BSU-49 and GBU-12E/B Paveway 500-pound bomb. Taiwan has tried to acquire more sophisticated munitions from the U.S. with little success.
Taiwan waited for years for the U.S. to release AMRAAMs while waiting for China to receive comparable missiles from Russia. The U.S. approved the sale of AMRAAMs in September 2000, but the sale was politicized when the U.S. State Department decided to withhold shipment until China received comparable Russian AA-12 Adder (R-77) medium range air-to-air missiles. The controversial decision caused resentment within the Taiwan military establishment. Taiwan finally received its AMRAAM order in 2003, three years after it had been approved from the U.S.
Taiwan’s request for AGM-88C High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) and Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kits for the air force’s existing inventory of unguided bombs was rejected by the U.S. government in 2005.
Taiwan is currently developing alternatives to the weapons. Taiwan’s military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology is developing an anti-radiation missile, the Tien Chien 2A (Sky Sword) and a smart bomb, the Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords), based on the AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon, and a land-attack cruise missile (LACM), Hsiung Feng 2E (Brave Wind), that will be able to strike land-based targets inside Chinese territory. Sources say that the HF-2E will be used against missile facilities. China has approximately 800 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan.
The U.S. State Department has been pressuring Taiwan to halt development of the HF-2E, but critics point out that the U.S. has already sold Taiwan coastal suppression kits for its inventory of Harpoon missiles thus making complaints moot.