Taiwan Modernizes, Streamlines Spec Ops
By WENDELL MINNICK
PINGTUNG COUNTY, Taiwan — Taiwan’s airborne and special operations forces have undergone significant streamlining and modernizing in the past 10 years.
The Army’s Aviation and Special Forces Command (ASFC) showed off many of its new capabilities and equipment during an airborne exercise Dec. 14 at the Dawu Airborne Training Center here.
The Ministry of National Defense allowed the media direct access to ASFC troops and equipment in an effort to ward off concerns that Taiwan’s defense capabilities are faltering as China’s military improves.
The airborne exercise featured several specialized parachute jumps, including a display by the Shenlung (Heaven Dragon) skydiving demonstration squad, a powered paragliding demonstration and a basic jump by trainees from a C-130H Hercules cargo aircraft. The Shenlung squad has 21 members, including six women. The average team member has conducted between 500 and 1,000 jumps.
Taiwan’s airborne training program is modeled after the U.S. Army’s at Fort Benning, Ga., an ASFC officer said.
“Jump school lasts three weeks and they have to make five jumps, including a night jump, to graduate,” the officer said.
The ASFC’s 9,500 personnel include 300 women. The order of battle encompasses the 601 and 602 Aviation Brigades; 603 Aviation Training Command; the Air Transport Battalion; 101 Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion; Airborne Special Service Company (ASSC); and Special Forces Command, which contains the 862 and 871 Airborne Groups, each with three battalions.
The 603 will be activated as a combat aviation brigade during times of war, an ASFC official said.
The ASSC just celebrated its 30th anniversary, a member said, noting there are 150 personnel and the unit “is similar to the U.S. Army’s Delta Force.”
ASFC forces are equipped with the older static line-deployed T-10B parachutes, but “we hope to replace all of them” with the newer T-11 Non-Maneuverable Canopy Personnel Parachute System now used by the U.S. military, an ASFC officer said. The ASFC also uses the MC1-1B steerable parachute and MT-1X ram air-pressurized gliding canopy parachute for special jumps. Members are armed with the new Taiwan-built 5.56mm T91 assault rifle and 7.62mm T74 machine gun.
The ASFC also provides airborne training for the Marine Corps’ elite Special Service Company. The Marines also have two amphibious reconnaissance patrol units responsible for special operations missions.
Taiwan has been modernizing its aviation capabilities with new helicopters.
The 601 and 602 are preparing to take delivery of 30 Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters and 60 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters. These will gradually replace aging Bell UH-1H Huey utility copters procured during the 1970s and supplement two squadrons of Bell AH-1W SuperCobras in service since the 1990s.
In 2003, the Air Transport Battalion took delivery of nine Boeing CH-47SD Chinooks, which replaced three B-234s, civilian variants of the Chinook.
In February, Taiwan’s Air Force announced a decision to buy three Eurocopter EC225 helicopters for search-and-rescue missions. The $111 million deal includes an option for 17 additional helicopters.