Taiwan's AIDC urges IDF upgrades as USA delays arms sale

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Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) is urging its government to fund an Indigenous Defence Fighter upgrade programme, adding that the project is even more urgent after the USA delayed approving a crucial arms package for the island.

AIDC unveiled the first two F-CK-1C/D prototypes in 2007 (single-seat C pictured below) and hoped to begin serial production of the aircraft this year. It has also proposed upgrading half of Taipei's fleet of 130 A/B-model IDFs, the last of which was manufactured in 1999, but this has been put on hold as Taiwan's cabinet has not approved funding.

© BAE Systems

"Senior ministry of national defence officials said recently that the programme would proceed, and that it was a matter of national importance," says a source close to the company.

"But there have been only words and no funding from the government. AIDC has said all along that the upgrades are essential for Taiwan's national defence, especially if the proposed arms deal with the USA faced road-blocks. That's exactly what has happened."

Taiwan is seeking 66 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighters, 30 Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters, 60 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters, eight diesel submarines and four Raytheon PAC-3 Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries as part of a $16 billion arms package.

The state's legislature did not approve the funding until December 2007 due to political infighting, and by then, Washington had lost patience with the Chen Shui Bian government. It has still not sent a formal request to Congress, even though the more conciliatory Ma Ying Jeou replaced Chen earlier this year.

Progress is unlikely to take place soon, with Adm Timothy Keating, commander of the US Pacific Command, saying that Washington's decision makers have concluded that there is "no pressing, compelling need" for an arms sale to Taiwan at this point.

Observers say the USA is loath to sour ties with China ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August, and at a time when economic and political relations are the closest for many years.

China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade since its ruling communists won a civil war in the mainland in 1949, but relations have warmed since Ma took office and the two finally began regular charter flights in early July.

Ma, however, says the warming ties are not a reason to lower Taiwan's defences. "Our stance will definitely not change just because we have improved relations with the mainland," he says.

Some observers believe that approval for the arms package may now be delayed until after the US elections in November, with the possibility that President Bush may approve the deal just before he leaves office next February.

Others, however, say it is likely that the next US president may inherit the issue from his predecessor, further delaying a decision.

Apart from the IDF, Taiwan's fighter inventory includes F-16A/Bs, Dassault Mirage 2000-5s and Northrop F-5s. A separate deal for 12 Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft is not affected by the ongoing impasse.