Steps for a fighter
Andrew Whyte posts a good question though it is a little convoluted (Johnny Neihu’s Mailbag, Dec. 26, page 8).
Having been involved in the aerospace business as an engineer for many years, I will break down the steps required to design and build a 4th or 5th generation fighter.
A 4th generation fighter would be an aircraft similar to the F-16 and F-15 fighters. The 5th generation fighter would be in league with the F-22 and F-35 fighters.
Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), or Ching-kuo fighter, was developed locally with the assistance of several US companies. There is a reason why the IDF appears somewhat similar to the F-16: Similar horizontal stabilizer and wing design were incorporated to provide better lift and control capability. The engines are TFE1042 turbo fans provided through a joint effort with AlliedSignal, a US company (now Honeywell). Avionics and radar systems were developed with a joint agreement between BAE and Northrop Grumman. Even the Vulcan cannon is a weapon designed jointly with a US company.
The one weakness of the IDF is its engine. It was originally proposed to have a GE F110 or Pratt F100-PW engine, like the F-16. Unfortunately export requirements could not be met and a less powerful engine was supplied.
The point of all this is to show how difficult and expensive it is to design and build a fighter from the ground up utilizing locally made products. Even China cannot duplicate these conditions — at least not yet.
If Taiwan were to build another aircraft, should it be 4th gen or 5th gen? We are talking millions upon millions of dollars to develop and field this type of weapon.
It is more prudent and cost-effective to purchase an off-the-shelf proven variant that is available sooner and that would benefit national defense faster than through a development stage.
Currently no country outside the US can build 5th generation fighters, so that means Taiwan would have to design a 4th generation fighter that would not be more capable than existing equipment.
Johnny, your last sentence was spot on!
Johnny replies: Thanks for the letter, Sam. For those who can’t be bothered looking online or popping down to the local library, the “last sentence” of my reply was: “The ‘indigenous fighter’ problem hinges not on the capacity to make arms but the lack of a fundamental instinct of defending against a looming predator.”
Extending this line of thinking, let’s assume that the Americans are caught napping and a Chinese invasion overcomes Taiwan’s military “deterrent” and installs a puppet government. Democratic voices are silenced; dissidents are rounded up and jailed and/or murdered, along with ordinary people caught up in the tumult.
It is what happens next that, to me, provides the most profound deterrent to an invasion.
The new “status quo” will only last so long in the face of a global boycott on trade with Taiwan, and the economy would flounder — and this doesn’t factor in the massive blow to the morale of workers that would follow the violence.
Are Taiwanese just going to kick back and watch as our wealth and sense of security are squandered — and with local collaborators licking their lips as the spoils flow in? The answer is unclear, because the Chinese are adept at inflicting terror on frontier populations until the poor bastards can only respond in modes Beijing calls “terrorist.”
But if we make a case that a takeover would prompt a general rebellion (non-violent non-cooperation or civil warfare, take your pick), then Beijing might just think twice before crossing the Rubicon Strait.
Open-ended conflict in Taiwan can only corrode China’s fantasy of world respectability. Would the comprehensive loss of face be worth it for those sons of bitches?
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