Sunday, October 4, 2009

Taiwan Loses Aerospace Leader

Defense News


Taiwan Loses Aerospace Leader

By Wendell Minnick

Taipei - Kent Feng, CEO and chairman of the state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC), was fired on Sept. 1 for what sources are saying were political motives by the presidential administration of Ma Ying-jeou, which came to power in May.

"He was (mis)identified as pro-DPP by KMT people. The Taiwan defense industry lost a capable figure," said a Taiwan defense analyst and former government official. "He burned the midnight oil for AIDC," said another defense source.

Ma's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) swept both the legislative and presidential elections earlier this year, upsetting pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) control of the presidency after eight years.

Feng was the subject of a Defense News feature interview on Aug. 18. He retired as the vice chief of the General Staff, Ministry of National Defense, in 2006, taking the AIDC position in May 2006. Feng was a former F-5 fighter pilot and military attaché in the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Part of the motivation for Feng's firing was what a source described as Feng's attempts to control corruption in the company where AIDC officials were farming out manufacturing contracts to select, often family-connected, companies.

Feng was also the subject of mainland Chinese political harassment at the Singapore Airshow in February when Chinese "minders" appeared at the AIDC booth. Singapore Airshow officials stated Chinese government officials complained AIDC was displaying the Taiwan emblem (a white star with blue background) on pamphlets and posters.

Feng was forced to order his staff to remove pamphlets and Singapore Airshow officials blotted out the emblem on posters with black ink. Feng stated that the same emblem appeared on pamphlets and posters during an aerospace exhibition in China with no complaints. Chinese "minders" remained near the booth throughout the duration of the show.

AIDC is the only aerospace company in Taiwan capable of developing and manufacturing military aircraft. Feng was pushing hard on an upgrade program for the Indigenous Defense Fighter, but met political resistance from the legislative branch and some opposition within the Air Force, which favors new F-16 fighters.

Among the programs Feng was pushing was a new advanced composite materials center, a new advanced jet trainer for the Air Force and the development of a stealth fighter aircraft.

Feng was also a strong proponent of privatization of AIDC, something many in AIDC had opposed.

"There is a Chinese saying, 'you don't take away someone's rice bowl,' and privatization threatened a lot of jobs," said a source.