Taiwan's Defense Show in Decline; F-16s in Limbo
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - The biennial Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE), which ran Aug. 11-14, was forced to share floor space with a comic book convention at the World Trade Center here. If that was not humiliating enough, several mainland Chinese businessmen were seen perusing booths. Who and what they were about remain a mystery.
Those familiar with the vibrancy of the Singapore Air Show might be surprised to learn that Taiwan spends about $2 billion more than Singapore on defense annually, yet there was no evidence of that at TADTE this year.
The show has seen steady declines over the past decade. Only six U.S. defense companies exhibited this year: ITT, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky Aircraft. Missing were BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, General Dynamics, L-3 Communications, Rockwell Collins, Thales and U.S. Ordnance, all of which traditionally have had booths.
Part of the lack of interest could be attributed to the fact that Taiwan's shopping list for new arms has been filled for the near term and there are few, if any, items left to procure. The military is struggling to pay for $16.5 billion in new U.S. arms released since 2007, including Patriot PAC-3 ballistic missile defense systems, P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters.
Added to procurement costs are expensive reform programs. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) is implementing a streamlining and modernization program that will reduce troop strength from 275,000 to 215,000 within the next five to 10 years.
Despite the MND's financial struggles, a U.S. Department of Defense delegation was in Taiwan during TADTE to finalize price and availability options for a $4.2 billion upgrade package for 146 F-16A/B fighter jets.
Sources at TADTE said the midlife upgrade package has been renamed a "retrofit" to reduce complaints from China. To further placate China, the F-16A/B retrofit will be released incrementally rather than as a total package under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
The only serious competition at TADTE was between Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to supply the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the F-16A/B retrofit requirement. Northrop's Scalable Agile Beam Radar and the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar are vying to replace the current APG-66(V)3 mechanical radar.
If the U.S. government does not release an AESA radar for Taiwan, TADTE sources indicate that the Northrop APG-68(V)9 mechanical radar would be offered as a substitute.
Taiwan is awaiting a final decision by the U.S. on a deal for 66 F-16C/D fighters for $8 billion, and a 2001 offer for eight diesel submarines estimated at more than $10 billion.
TADTE participants said the U.S. plans to release the F-16A/B retrofit with the AESA radar, but not new F-16C/D fighters.
A senior Taiwan MND official said he was "disappointed" by U.S. plans to deny Taiwan the new fighters.
But senior MND and U.S. government officials are denying the report. MND officials insist the U.S. Defense Department delegation did not inform Taiwan of a final decision on the F-16C/Ds, and hope remains for a positive release.
Since 2006, the U.S. has repeatedly denied Taiwan's request for F-16C/D fighters to placate China. In July, the U.S. State Department indicated a final decision on the F-16 issue would be made before Oct. 1.
News of the DoD delegation's visit comes at an awkward time for the administration of President Barack Obama. U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden arrived in Beijing on Aug. 17 to discuss economic and political issues. China has insisted the U.S. end all arms sales to Taiwan, and has threatened to invade the island should it continue to refuse unification.
During TADTE, the MND displayed a variety of new weapons and equipment. The most startling were exhibits by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST).
CSIST displayed the new Hsiung Feng 3 (Brave Wind 3) supersonic anti-ship missile. Though the missile had been displayed at TADTE 2009, this is the first time it was described as an "aircraft carrier killer," with a mural depicting three HF-3 missiles sinking China's new aircraft carrier, the Varyag.
China began sea trials for the Varyag on Aug. 10, the same day the HF-3 display was unveiled to the media. The Taiwan Navy has outfitted two Perry-class frigates, the 1101 Cheng Kung and 1103 Cheng Ho, with the HF-3.
CSIST also displayed models of two new unmanned aerial combat vehicle (UACV) concepts. CSIST officials did not provide any information about the UACV models, but one appeared similar to the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, while the other had a diamond-shaped fuselage similar to the Boeing X-45.
A CSIST animated demonstration video showed three X-45-like UACVs flying alongside an F-16 on a mission to attack a Chinese air base. The video also demonstrated how the Reaper-like UACV could be used to attack ground-based radar facilities in China.
The 202nd Arsenal displayed a new 105mm low-recoil turret being developed for the eight-wheeled Cloud Leopard armored vehicle. One Cloud Leopard on display was equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher. Full-rate production has begun, and the military has a requirement for 300 vehicles.