Saturday, September 26, 2009

Taiwan's AIDC Pushing Forward with IDF-2 Upgrade

Defense News


Singapore Airshow

Taiwan's AIDC Pushing Forward with IDF-2 Upgrade

By Wendell Minnick

Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC), the maker of both commercial and military aviation products, is preparing for orders from the Taiwan air force for an upgrade of one wing of F-CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) into IDF-II "Goshawk" joint strike fighters.

At present, AIDC has upgraded one IDF into the IDF-II and completely built a new twin-seater IDF-II, said Kent Feng, AIDC Chairman.

"A possible budget in 2009 and a build program are expected in 2010," said Feng.

AIDC is displaying a model of the IDF-II at its booth at the Singapore Airshow. AIDC launched the seven-year Hsiang Sheng (Soaring Upgrade) program in 2000, when the Cabinet allocated $225.5 million to turn two air-interdiction IDFs into "joint strike fighters" with longer range and larger payloads. The upgrade allows the IDF to carry an extra 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) bomb, both produced by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST). It also upgrades the mission computer, electronic warfare system and radar.

Feng retired from the Taiwan air force in 2006 as a three-star general (equivalent to a U.S. four star) and chief of general staff. He served as an F-5 fighter pilot during his tenure as wing commander of the 443 Tactical Fighter Wing in Tainan from 1993-1994.

Feng sought to calm fears in the U.S. defense industry that Taiwan was attempting to build its own fighter and forego orders of 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters currently being debated in the U.S.

"The U.S. side is saying, 'are you really going to build the IDF-II? We are going to sell you the F-16s? Why build them? You are trying to build the IDF-II to pressure the U.S. to sale the F-16s.' The Taiwan air force wants the F-16s, but there are problems," said Feng.

Feng is referring to U.S. debate on whether additional F-16s would be politically and diplomatically sound. Beijing has threatened the U.S. repeatedly to stop further weapon sales to Taiwan and has used its economic, diplomatic and political power to influence Washington. The Taiwan air force has been told on four occasions by U.S. officials not to submit an official request until after Taiwan's presidential election in March, say defense sources in Taipei and Washington.

"Even if the F-16 is released, the U.S. will not sell us all the weapon systems, but the IDF-II can carry any of the weapons CSIST produces," said Feng.

CSIST manufacturers a wide range of bombs, missiles and radars. Feng cited U.S. rejections of Taiwan's request for Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).

Feng also expressed some disappointment in the Taiwan army's decision to procure AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawks to replace the army's aging inventory of UH-1H utility helicopters and to supplement its two wings of AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters. Bell Helicopter had offered Taiwan a co-build and co-assembly deal for both the UH-1Y and AH-1Z helicopters should the army choose them.

"We need the jobs and to upgrade technical skills. The Bell program would have done it," said Feng.

However, Feng said that AIDC and Pratt Whitney had just signed a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) contract in 2007 for the F-100 engine used in the F-16 fighter. The MRO program will begin in July 2008.

AIDC is also doing research and development for the AT-X jet trainer program to replace the F-5 Tigers, which are used as a technical trainer. Feng explained this is not intended to replace the AT-3, which is an advanced trainer. Taiwan also uses the T-34 as a basic trainer. All three aircraft were manufactured by AIDC.

At present, Taiwan's air force has around 60 F-5s, which are scheduled to begin retirement in 2013. However, the air force might extend the life of the F-5s indefinitely depending on the budget.

AIDC is flipping the bill for the AT-X research and development program, and has received no "seed money" from the government for the program, said Feng. "In our system you have to get accepted, and then approved, and then you get a budget," he said.