By WENDELL MINNICK
Taiwan’s efforts to go forward on the production of its first eight-wheel-drive armored infantry fighting vehicle (AIFV) program, dubbed CM-32, appear close to failure.
Taiwan unveiled the CM-32 at the military-run Ordnance Readiness Development Center (ORDC) in Nantou County in January 2005. At the time, President Chen Shui-bian told the media that the project would create jobs and help improve the ability of the military to defend the island of 23 million.
Named after the nearly extinct Taiwanese Clouded Leopard, the CM-32 program seems doomed to a similar fate. Problems range from legislative inertia to budget problems to design flaws.
The Army has a requirement of between 700 to 1,400 vehicles, at an estimated cost of $2 million apiece, to replace its aging M113 armored personnel carriers, locally produced CM-21 (M113 variant), and four-wheel-drive Textron Commando LAV-150S.
Produced and developed by the ORDC under the Combined Logistics Command, the Clouded Leopard is the second AIFV to face extermination. The first was the ill-fated CM-31 Speed Leopard six-wheel-drive AIFV prototype that was abandoned in 2000 amid development problems. The military launched the CM-32 program in 2000 as a replacement.
Now the CM-32 faces termination.
First, Taiwan’s legislature has frozen two-thirds of the budget for the CM-32 to punish the Ministry of National Defense (MND) for failing to follow budget protocols.
“Before the procurement process was completed, the MND violated the Budgetary Law, after sending the budget to the Legislative Yuan last September. The legislature froze the annual budget,” said a Taiwan defense source. “Till now, the budget has not been reactivated. Hopefully, the legislative Defense Committee will discuss this and other cases being frozen. Yet, we cannot predict when it will be reactivated.”
Another Taiwan source close to the National Security Council also believes that there are some “under the table” issues regarding “agents who want to do business using subsystems such as turret, chain cannon, night vision, etc. On the other hand, this vehicle needs a rethink about the use of commercial and off-the-shelf parts, especially engine and gearbox, to bring the costs down.”
Additional problems involve the fact that the vehicle weighs in excess of 22 tons, roughly 5 tons more than most vehicles of this type, and has no amphibious capability. There are other snags in the suspension and traction. During a live demonstration in January 2005, the vehicle made several aborted attempts to climb a 70-degree gradient.
“Performance of the CM-32 prototypes remains less than fully satisfactory. Shortcomings in areas like turning radius, weight and armor protection mean that significant technical assistance will still be needed from outside contractors with mature technologies, before the vehicle can enter series production,” said Fu S. Mei, director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center. “The CM-32 is still not ready for full production. The next phase will actually be a sort of [low rate initial production], with not more than a dozen units to be built, if the funding is released.”
Three prototypes have been produced: the P-1 and P-2 variants with turrets armed with an ATK M242 Bushmaster 25mm cannon, and the P-0 personnel carrier. The vehicle has a maximum speed of 110 kilometers per hour, powered by a 450-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engine and Allison automatic transmission. The P-0 carries a crew of three together with six troops.
The ORDC had plans to produce additional variants, including an ambulance, mortar carrier, command vehicle, engineering vehicle, a 2,000-meter range 105mm M68A1 main gun with a 32-round load, and an anti-aircraft vehicle armed with the indigenously developed Tien Chien (Sky Sword) anti-aircraft missile.
However, “despite public statements to the contrary, ORDC is not confident it would be able to productionize many of the eight or nine additional variants required by the Army,” Mei said. “Variants such as the armored mortar carrier and armored gun system, just to name the two most obvious, will definitely not be possible without foreign contractor assistance and supplier of major systems (e.g. turrets).
“Moreover, even with outside assistance, it has already been established that ORDC would not be able to meet the delivery schedule required by Taiwan’s military for some of these specialized variants,” Mei said.
There have been discussions with General Motors to purchase the Light Armored Vehicle-3 (LAV-3). GM demonstrated the LAV-3 in 1994, 1997 and 2001 to “enthusiastic Taiwan officials,” said a GM source.
Taiwan also has discussed the right to partially construct the LAV-3. GM officials have not totally dismissed the idea, but have become increasingly less confident a sale will go forward.