Mon, Nov 10, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Air force hesitates over imported stealth technology

PRESSURE The military believes that new material makes aircraft unsafe, despite a complaint by the man who brought the technology to Taiwan

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The air force has delayed plans to use new stealth technology introduced by an overseas Taiwanese man because the technology might not suit local needs, defense sources said yesterday.

The imported technology, based on dielectric radar absorbing materials, has been undergoing secret tests for the past two years in a project code-named "Black Leopard." The material is supposed to make any object it covers invisible to enemy radar.

But test results showed that while the stealth material worked, it added too much weight to planes. It was feared that the extra weight might affect safety and overall performance.

The hesitation sparked a strong reaction from the overseas Taiwan-ese who brought the stealth technology to Taiwan, a defense official said.

"This man is obviously very influential," the officials said. "Through special channels, he has made a complaint to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). We do not know President Chen's response to it. We fear that the man will not easily give up," the official said.

The National Security Council plays a leading role in the Black Leopard project, while the air force and the state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) are joint executors of the plan. The spending for the project is not known and it was not included in the annual budget of the Ministry of National Defense.

The AIDC provided an AT-3 jet trainer plane for the testing of the radar-absorbing material.

The AT-3 has made 43 test flights over the past two years, sources said. The stealth material was even applied to an air-to-air missile carried by the AT-3.

In test flights against an Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), the AT-3 was not detectable to the IDF at a distance of 35km, which means the IDF would not have had time to respond to a missile attack by the stealth plane.

Despite the favorable test results, however, the AT-3 was thought to be carrying too much weight.

"The test results were only for reference since they might not be realistic enough. But a realistic test might put the test pilot in danger, because it is not known whether the extra weight on the AT-3 would pose a risk," a defense source said.

"It is also questionable whether the stealth-capable AT-3 would be able to safely fire a missile as simulated in the tests," he said.

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