Wed, May 25, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan's military will fire blanks

By Wendell Minnick

What does this mean for a Taiwanese air-force pilot engaged in a dogfight with Chinese fighters? It means a lot of "yankin' and bankin.'"

Taiwanese pilots already have a lot of cynicism about their jobs. Air combat missions against Chinese targets are referred to as "one-way tickets."

Entering China's air-defense network would be like being sucked into a black hole.

This is why Taiwan also needs additional ALE-50 towed radar decoys. Taiwan has refused to procure an operationally useful number of these decoys. To date they have ordered less decoys than would last one full day if a war started.

Taiwan needs two launcher controllers per 150 F-16s (300 in total). The decoys are not reusable, so in a shooting war, assume there are 1.5 decoys per sortie, multiply that by 100 aircraft flying two sorties per day, then multiply that again by 10 days of fighting, and you have 3,000 decoys.

Taiwan has purchased less than 5 percent of that number of decoys, and only 56 of the launcher controllers. The ALE-50 goes a long way in ensuring the survivability of the F-16 against China's missiles. A ministry report released last year concluded that Taiwan's air force would be "destroyed in a few days."

Still, Taiwan's air force has fought off US pressure to fortify its aircraft shelters with additional cement. A simple low-cost measure is ignored because it is not sexy.

US defense sources have also been discouraged by Taiwan's decision to withdraw its F-16s from the Luke Air Force Base air-combat training program last year. One US defense source described the decision as a "disaster."

Taiwan's participation in the program gave pilots a first-class education in aerial combat, beginning in 1997.

Taiwanese pilots learned long-range low-altitude penetration, air-to-air combat, air combat maneuvering, instrumentation, night attacks and maritime interdiction. Taiwanese pilots have been recurrent winners of the Turkey Shoot competition and the Frank Luke Award for flying.

China's force modernization has resulted in a deployment of 800 fighter aircraft, including new Russian-made Su-27 and Su-30 fighters, within 1,100km of Taiwan. In addition, Taiwan is now facing 700 Dong Feng-11 (M-11) and DF-15 (M-9) tactical ballistic missiles.

What does all of this mean in a war with China? China will rape Taiwan.

Wendell Minnick is the Jane's Defence Weekly correspondent for Taiwan.

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