Defence shows can be quite staid affairs, but Taiwan produced the unexpected at the biennial Taipei Aerospace & Defence Technology Exhibition (TADTE) held from 11-14 July 2011. What was startling in the Ministry of National Defence (MND) pavilion was a large backdrop portraying a “new-generation” Taiwanese Hsiung Feng III anti-ship missile striking a Soviet-style aircraft carrier. It was no mere coincidence that this exhibit appeared just one day after the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) despatched its ex-Soviet aircraft carrier on her maiden voyage!

27th Oct 2011



 Gordon Arthur / Taipei

Defence shows can be quite staid affairs, but Taiwan produced the unexpected at the biennial Taipei Aerospace & Defence Technology Exhibition (TADTE) held from 11-14 July 2011. What was startling in the Ministry of National Defence (MND) pavilion was a large backdrop portraying a “new-generation” Taiwanese Hsiung Feng III anti-ship missile striking a Soviet-style aircraft carrier. It was no mere coincidence that this exhibit appeared just one day after the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) despatched its ex-Soviet aircraft carrier on her maiden voyage!

In a culture where symbolism reigns supreme, Taiwan was sending a transparent message to China. In reality, this display should not have been a surprise to anyone who visited Airshow China in Zhuhai last year. On that occasion, Chinese military artwork showed a US Navy carrier being targeted by anti-ship missile batteries and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). While China may be capable of hitting American carriers at sea, Taiwan is demonstrating it can do the same. For Ma Ying-jeou’s government that has tried hard to soften Taiwan’s stance towards China, this was a surprisingly provocative move.

Missiles and simulators
This blatancy contrasted with the recalcitrance of some spokespersons from state-owned industries to speak about high-tech military hardware. For example, the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) refused to comment on the deployment status of the Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind) missile family, even though last year it was confirmed the HF-III had been deployed aboard Kuang Hua VI missile boats and Perry-class frigates. The HF-III anti-ship missile is distinguished by its supersonic speed and extended range. It has not yet been mounted on mobile ground launchers, but interestingly some mobile HF-II systems were observed being deployed to Taiwan’s western coast prior to China’s new aircraft carrier putting to sea.

A total of 91 companies displayed wares at TADTE 2011, with the MND pavilion being the largest with 160 items on exhibit. The MND adopted the theme, “Strengthen self-defence; promote industrial upgrading”. Taiwan showed a number of different training aids that utilize digital technology. Tank gunnery and driver simulators were available for visitors to try out, as was a small-arms training system. The author was invited to fire a T91 assault rifle at simulated targets on a large screen, and the system indeed felt quite realistic. This system that was first used by the Republic of China Army (ROCA) in 2007 is being successfully employed for basic training.

The ROCA has two Conquering Combat-stress Training Systems (CCTS) in use, and a partial system appeared at TADTE. The CCTS was first introduced by CSIST two years ago, and it is designed to help soldiers adjust to real-life battlefield conditions. Each system has four modules that depict environments such as night firing, repelling an amphibious landing, and urban terrain. Each section has a large digital screen, plus enemy fire is simulated with rapid-firing pellet guns and suitable light and sound effects. The areas include smells such as teargas, decomposing bodies and gunpowder. The computerised system monitors the heartbeats of soldiers and tracks the number and accuracy of rounds fired.

Flying things
Defence Review Asia spoke to Lee Chung-Huang, Vice-President of Military Business Development at the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC). He outlined the major midlife upgrade (MLU) improvements being made to the air superiority F-CK-1A/B Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) that will provide 20 more years of frontline service. Collaboration with Lockheed Martin, he related, has given the GD-53 radar more integrated air-to-air and air-to-ground functions (it will carry the Tien Chien 2A anti-radiation missile, for instance), as well as a first-time electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) capability. A new glass cockpit introduces a full-colour multifunction display (MFD). There is also an upgraded 32-bit flight control computer and display processor system with larger throughput capacity. “This digitised instrumentation offers the pilot far better situational awareness,” explained the vice-president.

Upgraded IDFs have strengthened landing gear and an anti-skid braking system. The F-CK-1 can also carry four Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword) air-to-air missiles, double the load previously possible, as well as Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) cluster bombs. An MLU contract was signed two years ago, and 71 fighters are being upgraded in the USD590 million first phase that will conclude by the end of 2012. The first six aircraft were handed over to the ROC Air Force (ROCAF) at a ceremony on 30 June.

There is an option to upgrade a further 56 aircraft in Phase Two if the budget permits. However, finances are also constraining the twin-seat F-CK-1C/D Goshawk, of which two prototypes have been built. Lee hinted at alternative proposals for this aircraft, saying AIDC would submit a formal proposal to the ROCAF before year’s end. It will involve Link 16, electronic warfare improvements and a helmet-mounted display (HMD). Another important programme for AIDC is providing a replacement jet trainer for the company’s AT-3 that has been in service since the 1980s. Previous proposals have not met with MND approval, but AIDC said its XAT-5 with more advanced features is currently at the feasibility study level. Its future direction will depend on government funding.

UAVs were showing signs of maturing aerospace technology too. CSIST had a couple of conceptual UAVs on display, including a Predator look-alike plus an armed combat design. CSIST proudly showed the 2.1kg Cardinal mini-UAV that has a 10km range and can adapt from daylight to night-time operations by simply changing a nosecone containing the appropriate payload. The 1m-long Cardinal is carried by one man while another operates the portable control station. A CSIST representative said Taiwan will use the hand-launched UAV for reconnaissance, surveillance and target designation. The ROCA and Marine Corps have already performed tests, and a contract has been signed although the Cardinal is not yet in production. The research organisation remained tight-lipped about a micro-UAV it is also developing.

These UAVs are in addition to the Chung Shyang already in production for the ROCA. The spokesman was cagey about revealing precise production figures, but he conceded “at least ten” airframes were in service, and that the design had recently completed 1,000 flight hours. CSIST showed the low-cost Soaring-Kite Trainer UAV with 2.8m wingspan, which will serve as a training platform for pilots before they step up to the Chung Shyang. CSIST claimed Taiwan has no interest in acquiring overseas off-the-shelf systems as it was “cheaper” to develop and produce UAVs locally.

Back to earth
The locally produced CM-32 Cloud Leopard 8x8 vehicle has been a long time in development, but its maker claims a major obstacle involving cracks in hull armour plates has been overcome. China Steel, supplier of the armour, stated, “It’s as good as any other foreign-made steel material.” So far, 23 CM-32 armoured personnel carriers (APC) have been built after limited production commenced in early 2011. These versions mount 40mm remote-controlled grenade launchers, and one example was exhibited at TADTE. The infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) variant will have a 30mm cannon. A three-man turret mounting a low-recoil 105mm M68A1 gun was also shown, though this is still at the prototype stage.

Taiwan finally showed off its Ray Ting 2000 multiple-launch rocket launcher (MLRS) that fires Mk.15 (117mm), Mk.30 (182mm) or Mk.45 (230mm) rockets from its twelve tubes. The locally developed MLRS has been in existence for a decade but it has taken this long to find a suitable truck on which to mount it. An Oshkosh HEMTT chassis was originally envisioned but American pricing proved prohibitive. Instead the RT 2000 has been mounted on a commercial 8x8 truck chassis from MAN. The system is designed to counter amphibious invasion forces, with the kill area for a full load of rockets said to be “six football fields” in size. The army wanted 54 systems but this requirement has since been downgraded to 43 because of the army’s reduction in size. There is also a German connection on the part of the NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBCRV) that was exhibited. NBC detection equipment is mounted on a commercial Unimog chassis because Germany refuses to sell military-grade equipment directly to Taiwan.

Other MND items of interest included a new digital camouflage combat uniform. Issuing has already begun but it will take some ten years before it is fielded to all units. Also shown was the Kestrel anti-armour rocket launcher soon to be inducted into the ROCA. The man-portable Kestrel from CSIST has an effective range of 400+m.

American sensibilities
One of Taiwan’s greatest problems is the ability to procure armaments from foreign countries. The USA is one of the few nations daring enough to run the gauntlet of Chinese ire by selling advanced weaponry to the island. For this reason, international exhibitors at TADTE were predominantly from the USA. However, the author noticed a distinct change in tone on the part of major American defence corporations compared to two years ago. Perhaps reflecting Barack Obama’s desire to improve relations with Beijing, there was a considerable degree of sensitivity about the issue of selling arms to Taiwan. A number of American companies were extremely tight-lipped and declined to speak to media. Some companies failed to even bring a spokesperson! Incidentally, Boeing is one company that never attends TADTE, perhaps because it is sensitive to the danger of adversely affecting commercial airline sales to China.

One of the few US manufacturers to field questions from the media was Raytheon. It was promoting its Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR), a scalable radar system that employs active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology. Designed to fit inside an F-16 or F/A-18 Hornet, the low-cost radar is derived from the AN/APG-79 used in the F/A-18E/F. Drew Robbins, Manager of Raytheon’s F-16 Radar Programmes, said several Asian countries were interested in the radar. He noted its main advantages lay in the areas of operational capability and maintenance. RACR’s air-to-air detection range is approximately double that of mechanically scanned arrays, while software manages the system and frees the pilot to fly the aircraft. In terms of reliability, the mean time between failure is 1,000 hours, which is some 8-10 times better than a mechanical system.

RACR is ideal for retrofitting to F-16s. The concept revolves around replaceable modules that can be changed on the flight line within 30 minutes. RACR first flew on a US Air Force F-16 in August 2010. It is competing directly with Northrop Grumman’s Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), which was also displayed at TADTE. Either of these drop-in systems has obvious applications for the ROCAF’s fleet of 145 F-16A/B fighters that use APG-66(V)3 mechanical radar. With Taiwan’s plan to procure 66 advanced F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft quashed by a US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announcement on 21 September, the US government has instead approved a USD5.3 billion refurbishment programme for existing Taiwanese F-16s. This consolation prize will partially disappoint Taiwan, and some critics suggest Obama had capitulated to Chinese pressure. The US government defended the package, saying it would provide Taiwan with fighters “near” F-16C/D capability at a faster pace and at a cheaper price than new aircraft.

The F-16 upgrade package, to be implemented by AIDC, includes AESA radar, embedded GPS and inertial navigation system, Terma ALQ-213 electronic warfare management system, and the possibility of replacing their engines with more powerful F100-PW-229 units. The complete arms package for Taiwan announced on 21 September will include JDAMs for the first time, as well as AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, targeting pods and laser-guided Paveway bombs. The need for more modern fighters was tragically demonstrated when two ageing F-5 fighters crashed in a night exercise in September. Obama has released arms worth more than USD12 billion in the past two years, but Taiwan is struggling to pay for it all and the MND stated it would take twelve years to fully fund this latest package.

Three Patriot air defence batteries are being upgraded to fire PAC-2/GEM and PAC-3 missiles, while seven new firing batteries should be delivered by the middle of this decade. Raytheon delivered the first Configuration-3 radar set in June 2011. It is well known that Taiwan is pursuing the purchase of new diesel-electric submarines, although the enormous barrier is where to source them from. Interestingly, Lockheed Martin had a model of a Navantia S-80 submarine on display.

Taiwan made a bold political statement with its HF-III display at TADTE, which constituted an interesting departure from the Kuomintang administration’s usual practice of downplaying military issues. At the same time, US companies seemed to be suddenly overcome by a bad case of shyness. A day after TADTE 2011 closed its doors, the as-yet unnamed PLAN aircraft carrier returned to Dalian after successfully completing her maiden voyage.

2099 words

The “provocative” display showing a supersonic HF-III anti-ship missile set against the backdrop of a strike against a Soviet-style carrier. (Gordon Arthur)

The Cardinal mini-UAV from CSIST weighs just 2.1kg, and it appears set to enter ROC military service in due course. (Gordon Arthur)

A pair of recently fielded CM-32 8x8 Cloud Leopard APCs armed with 40mm remote-controlled grenade launchers. (Gordon Arthur)

This bird’s eye view reveals a Ray Ting 2000 MLRS in the foreground, plus a mobile Tien-Kung III air defence missile launcher behind. (Gordon Arthur)

Raytheon was promoting its modular RACR as a solution for upgrading Taiwan’s sizeable F-16A/B fighter fleet. (Gordon Arthur)


Defence Review Asia at a glance