The air force is preparing to build a new fighter that has vertical/short taking off and landing (VSTOL) capabilities.
"Because of the strong likelihood that landing strips at air bases will come under intensive missile attack and be destroyed during a war with China, the air force considers fighters with VSTOL capabilities to be most suitable for Taiwan's defense," air force Commander Liu Kui-li (劉貴立) told the Chinese-language China Times daily yesterday.
"The air force is open to any kind of VSTOL fighters, and is not necessarily aiming for the US' Joint Strike Fighters [JSF] that are in development," he said.
Liu said the air force hopes to create the new fighter force by 2020. He said the upgrading of the fleet was necessary to counter Chinese military spending.
Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) last week told a press conference that the US refused to offer Taiwan its newest JSFs, which will come into service in the next few years. The Ministry of National Defense has calculated that Taiwan would find it difficult to procure the US model before 2020.
Lee said the ministry asked the US to sell Taiwan a number of decommissioned US F-15 Eagle fighters in last year's defense meeting between the two sides, but the US did not agree to the sale.
"Because of the gradual decommissioning of the aging US F-5Es and Taiwanese IDFs [Indigenous Defense Fighters] over the coming years, the air force is expected to be short by more than 40 fighters in 2015," Lee said.
Lee said the ministry hoped to procure more than 40 decommissioned F-15s to fill the vacuum in air defense before the next-generation fighter force is built.
However, Liu told the daily that the air force had evaluated the decommissioned F-15 fighters and decided they were too old to meet its requirements. He said the air force would continue to ask the US to help Taiwan enhance its F-16 Falcon force's capabilities, although the US has not agreed to do so to date.
Taiwan has 146 F-16s, 56 Mirage-2000s and 128 IDFs in its current fleet as well as more than 60 F-5Es. Liu said the F-16 and Mirage-2000 fighters would remain in service for another 15 to 20 years.