Mon, Mar 06, 2017 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Defense minister explains aircraft program

Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan said in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporter Tzou Jiing-wen that the ministry must make up for its ‘lost decade’ in developing locally made advanced training aircraft, adding that Taiwan’s greatest contribution to maintaining peace in the region would be to demonstrate to the world its willingness to defend itself

Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan gestures during an interview in Taipei on Feb. 18. Photo: Liu Hsin-de, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): Why do you feel confident about your ability to implement the program to build indigenous advanced trainer jets?

Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬): I should explain this by telling you about my tenure at Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC, 漢翔航空工業).

I was the deputy chief of general staff and events developed normally, leading to my becoming AIDC chairman while holding my post at the general staff.

The program [to upgrade the Indigenous Defense Fighter] — called the Hsiang Sheng Project — was going through a rough patch; AIDC said the project could not be continued and a formal proposal for its termination was made by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology.

After attending their briefings, I expressed my opposition to the project’s termination. It had a budget of NT$7 billion [US$226 million at the current exchange rate] and had been going on for seven years. Declaring failure at that point would have been immensely detrimental to national security and the development of the national aerospace industry, not to mention bringing official censure to everyone who had served as ministers of national defense during the project.

After two or three months, then-premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) told me to take charge of AIDC.

I began working at AIDC on May 2, 2006. On May 26 of that year, I inspected the [AIDC] hangar and asked about the status of the Hsiang Sheng Project. AIDC supervisors took me to have a look; the prototype wingtips and tails were stored in the hangar’s platforms. I ran my hands down them and found they were literally gathering dust and grime.

They told me they could not go on and the parts had been sitting idle for more than a year. Before I left the hangar, I told them sternly: “If this plane cannot fly by the end of the year, I will resign.”

After that, whenever they came to me to complain about difficulties, I told them AIDC was going to get the job done regardless of difficulties.

In 1990, when I was in the US as a military attache, then-chief of general staff air force general Chen Shen-ling (陳燊齡) visited the US military’s Central Command [CENTCOM], and he raised complaints to the Americans about our aging aircraft and our inability to obtain F-16 planes.

The then-CENTCOM commander said that the newest planes are not necessarily what Taiwan needed; he said an aircraft is a platform, and with advanced fighters, the important thing was their avionic suites and their weapons networks.

He said that if IDF was to have jamming systems, electronic countermeasures, a surveillance and reconnaissance system, a high-performance radar and beyond-visual-range missiles of superior range and precision, there would be no need for its replacement by new airframes.

This exchange was not forgotten; it was the reason why I was determined that the Hsiang Sheng Project must come to a successful conclusion.

During the missile crisis in 1995, Chinese communist fighter jets flew over the Taiwan Strait; their Su-27s held the advantage in range, altitude and weapons payload, but their air-to-air missiles were inferior to ours. When they patrolled the median line over the Strait, our IDFs stationed in Magong took off and intercepted them.

At that time, our F-16 and Mirage 2000 units were still being formed and only the IDF-equipped pilots had been fully trained; the pilots reported that although their IDFs closed to visual range with the Su-27s during the confrontation, radar locks on target were achieved long before entering visual range, and they could have shot down the Su-27s the instant the chief of general staff gave the order.

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