Taiwan hopes to maintain air operations in the event of a military conflict with China by using vertical and short take-off and landing aircraft.
VSTOL fighters would allow Taiwan to maintain fighter operations should Chinese missiles damage the island's military runways, says US-based think-tank the Project 2049 Institute in a report entitled Evolving Aerospace Trends in the Asia Pacific Region.
Former US deputy assistant secretary of state Randall Schriver heads the institute. While at the State Department, Schriver was responsible for issues relating to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The report quotes former Taiwanese air force commander Liu Guili as saying: "The air force is open to any kind of VSTOL fighters, and is not necessarily aiming for the US [Lockheed Martin F-35] Joint Strike Fighter that is in development."
Taiwan's initial requests for participation in the international JSF programme were rebuffed, adds the institute.
Taiwan has also built underground storage hangars for its fighters.
"The underground aircraft storage facilities adjacent to Hualian airbase and near Taidong are able to house more than half of the Republic of China air force's total fleet," the report says.
Taiwan has also been conducting exercises to improve its "rapid runway repair" capabilities, it adds.
Taiwan's air force has 56 Dassault Mirage 2000s, 145 Lockheed F-16A/Bs, 126 Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation F-CK-1 Indigenous Defence Fighters and 60 Northrop F-5E/Fs, says the institute, adding that the F-5s are reaching the end of their operational lives.
To meet its more immediate needs, Taiwan has for several years been trying to persuade the USA to sell it a further batch of 66 F-16C/Ds.
In January, Washington announced that it plans to sell Taiwan arms equipment worth $6.1 billion, including 60 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters and 114 Lockheed Patriot PAC-3 missiles. However, the deal excludes more F-16s.
Source: Flight International