A Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesman yesterday confirmed that Taiwan was developing an unmanned surveillance aircraft (UAV), a move that provides further confirmation of a continuing arms race despite closer political and economic ties with China.
Ministry spokesman Major General Yu Sy-tue (虞思祖) said the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST, 中山科學研究院), which falls under the ministry’s Armaments Bureau, had initiated research on drones.
According to defense analysts, research on indigenous reconnaissance UAVs has been going on for at least a decade. The institute unveiled a number of UAVs in August last year — including an operational version of the Chung Shyang (中翔) — during the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition and Conference in Taipei.
A CSIST representative told Defense News at the time that the first Chung Shyang was built in 2007, with five prototypes already operational.
Asked by the Taipei Times whether the air force was seeking to obtain the Chung Shyang, which appears to be the institute’s most advanced prototype, a ministry spokesman said that “new models” were still in the research and development phase, without elaborating.
With a range of 100km and capability to fly eight hours without stopping, the Chung Shyang has day-and-night surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and can serve as a communications relay, Defense News said.
In March, the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) reported that the army had announced it would soon deploy the nation’s first UAV under its Aviation and Special Warfare Command, though no date was given.
Yu’s announcement came a day after Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) told the legislature that the ministry had not put a US-built UAV, the Global Hawk, on its procurement list, opting instead to develop its own version.
“The air force has identified the need to acquire unmanned aircraft, but has not included the US-built reconnaissance aircraft system on its arms procurement list,” Kao said.
He also said that Taiwan, with CSIST in the lead, had been developing unmanned vehicles “for quite some time.”
Earlier on Monday, the Chinese-language China Times reported that Japan has come up with a Global Hawk procurement plan after the US military stationed the aircraft in Guam last month.
The paper also quoted unidentified military sources as saying that the air force was conducting an assessment on whether to follow suit and that it would put both F-16C/D fighter aircraft and the Global Hawk on its priority procurement list.
Wendell Minnick, Asia bureau chief of Defense News, told the Taipei Times it was unlikely the US would ever agree to sell Global Hawks to Taiwan.