Mon, Jun 03, 2019 - Page 6 News List

The benefits of having an indigenous fighter plane

By Shan Yung-li 單永立

Tuesday last week was the 30th anniversary of the first test flight of the F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF). Not only has the military spent more on the development of the fighter than on any other arms system, it is also the biggest overall investment the country has ever made in a single project.

It places Taiwan on a par with other countries that have experience developing and producing a complete jet fighter program. It is an expensive learning experience of momentous significance.

Jet fighter design, development, testing, production and feedback require a huge amount of funding, are very time consuming and sometimes even have to be changed.

This has happened in other countries — one example is India’s Tejas jet fighter — where widely used new technologies and production innovations are often used for piecemeal upgrades of secondary weapons systems.

The Hsiang Chan Project several years ago focused on the threat posed by growing hostilities, searching for commercial sources for replacement parts and strengthening air-to-land strike capabilities, which could be integrated with the domestically produced Wanjian guided missile.

This would not only add 20 years of service life to the IDF fleet, it would also turn the airplane, originally designed purely for defense purposes and air superiority, into a multirole jet fighter.

NEW AIRCRAFT

A new domestically produced training aircraft based on the IDF is to be revealed in September. It is to replace the domestically produced AIDC AT-3 Ziqiang training aircraft and F-5E/F Tiger jet fighter.

This would simplify training for fighter pilots, reduce air and ground personnel training costs, and prevent the aerospace industry’s technical research and development, production, quality control and flight trial capabilities from disappearing.

LEARNING ON THE JOB

The US ignored the Aug. 17, 1982, US-China joint communique and sold technology and equipment vital to the IDF project, but also placed limitations on important functionality so that the most had to be made of the space inside the aircraft, and its weight and center of gravity had to be carefully calculated.

The members of Taiwan’s technical team, who had to learn while doing as they entered the field of supersonic flight for the first time, faced a difficult challenge.

AN ASSET

The IDF has been criticized by observers for having little air time, but that is not fair.

The fighter is not perfect, and that is the reason why a program to extend its service life and upgrade its capabilities is needed to gradually improve the aircraft and address its shortcomings by taking advantage of developments in the aerospace industry.

When purchasing jet fighters from another country, it is next to impossible to improve them and upgrade their fighting capabilities without first receiving permission from the manufacturer.

Only the IDF, with its relatively independent technology and integrated system software and hardware, can easily be integrated with a domestically produced arms system, while creating a healthy division of labor at the Corporate Synergy Development Center and kick-starting an industrial upgrade of the private sector.

As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so it is safer to stick to something the nation has control over.

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