Taiwan AF Receives Upgraded Indigenous Fighters
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAICHUNG, Taiwan - Taiwan's Air Force took delivery of the first six upgraded F-CK-1 A/B Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) in a ceremony presided over by President Ma Ying-jeou at the state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) here June 30.
AIDC began the $590 million Hsiang Chan Project in 2009 to conduct midlife upgrades on 71 of the 126 IDFs still in operation. All of the upgrades are scheduled for completion and delivery by the end of 2012, said Kang Shiah, AIDC senior vice president.
The Air Force has an option to upgrade the remaining 55 IDFs if budgeting allows, he said. AIDC built 130 IDFs in the 1990s to replace aging F-104 Starfighters.
The upgrades include a new glass cockpit, flight-control computer and multifunction display, and doubles the fighter's load of Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword) air-to-air missiles to four. "We solved the DMS [digital map system] problem," Kang said.
The upgrades will also allow the IDF to carry the Tien Chien 2A anti-radiation missile and the Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) cluster bomb. The Tien Chien missile family was developed by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, which assisted in the IDF's new upgrades and systems integration.
The 1st, 3rd and 9th Tactical Fighter Groups under the 443rd Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Tainan Air Base will deploy the upgraded IDFs.
A second wing, the 427th TFW at CCK Air Base, Taichung, will continue to operate the remaining 55 IDFs until a decision is made on whether to continue the Hsiang Chan Project upgrades.
Local defense analysts said a decision to continue the program hinges on whether the U.S. releases new F-16C/D fighters, now on hold since 2006. Taiwan's fighter fleet includes 126 IDFs, 56 Mirage 2000s, 146 F-16A/Bs and about 60 F-5E/Fs. There are plans to retire the F-5 and Mirage fighters in the next five to 10 years, respectively.
A CALL FOR NEW JET TRAINERS
During the ceremony, Ma called on the Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Economic Affairs and AIDC to collaborate to replace aging AT-3 Tzu Chiang jet trainers. AIDC built 61 AT-3s during the 1980s to replace T-33A Shooting Star jet trainers.
The AT-3s are based at Taiwan's Air Force Academy, Kangshan Air Base, Kaohsiung, and are capable of carrying a variety of weapons, including anti-ship missiles, during a conflict. One AT-3 (0862) operated by the Thunder Tiger Aerobatics Team was on display at the ceremony.
In 2000, AIDC began a program that extends the life of the AT-3 until 2017, and the Air Force has begun looking for an advanced jet trainer to replace it. Taiwan military officials have made inquiries in South Korea about acquiring the T-50 Golden Eagle, built in a collaborative effort by Korea Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin, but Seoul's close relationship with China makes any sale unlikely.
AIDC has tinkered with an AT-3 upgrade variant known as the AT-5, but the program failed to gain Air Force support because of a lack of advanced jet trainer capabilities.
Also on display at the ceremony was a two-seat prototype of the IDF Goshawk. AIDC manufactured two C/D Goshawks but has no plans to mass-produce the fighter until the Air Force finds the budget to buy it, Kang said. Local analysts said the Goshawk build program could go forward if the U.S. fails to release new F-16s.
The U.S. is also holding a $4.5 billion upgrade program for Taiwan’s F-16A/Bs along with an F-16 fighter training program at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.