While attending a committee meeting at the Legislative Yuan on Sept. 30, Minister of National Defense Yen De-fa (嚴德發) reported that since the beginning of the year, aircraft deployed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force have entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone 217 times.
During the same period, the air force conducted 2,972 sorties to monitor and intercept Chinese warplanes, which cost NT$25.5 billion (US$880.52 million). Yen confirmed that additional funds must be allocated to the air force’s budget for the next fiscal year to compensate for the extra flying time.
Even as the nation’s finances are precarious due to economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of additional interception sorties is likely to soar to NT$30 billion. Also, front-line military personnel are becoming fatigued at a greater rate, creating a never-ending logistical nightmare.
Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil, who last month headed a delegation to Taiwan, said before leaving the nation that he hoped for more exchanges between Taiwan and the Czech Republic.
Maintaining considerable cooperation on economics and trade would enable the two nations to continue to deepen their relations. A good place to start would be the Czech Republic’s aeronautical supply chain.
The Czech Republic is a member of the European Aerospace Cluster Partnership and Czech plane maker Aero Vodochody produces the Aero L-39 Albatros jet trainer. About 2,800 L-39s have thus far been deployed by more than 30 air forces around the world.
The company also produces an updated design, the Aero L-159 ALCA, a light attack aircraft and advanced jet trainer. The L-159 has the same Honeywell/ITEC F124 turbofan engine as Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), except that the L-159 has a single engine. However, this reduces its overall cost, so that it is an absolute bargain compared with the IDF.
Introduced in 2000, the L-159 has been deployed by the Czech Air Force and purchased by Spain and Iraq. Venezuela and Bolivia had placed orders, but the US objected and the sales were aborted.
Taiwan has over several decades been developing the nation’s aeronautical industry, but local firms only perform subcontract work for large European and US companies. Cooperation with Czech aviation companies would be a winning strategy for both sides.
Aerospace Industrial Development Corp has begun testing its T-5 Brave Eagle advanced jet trainer. Relatively few of the T-5s would replace the air force’s Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fleet of trainer aircraft, so it would not conflict with Czech designs.
As the T-5 is in research and development, with a while before mass production, a quicker option would be to bring in a mature, existing model. Doing so would be a “win-win” for foreign diplomacy and national defense.
The Czech government in 2015 approved the sale of 15 L-159 fighters to Iraq for US$30 million, or US$2 million per airplane. Rather than use the F-16 or Mirage 2000, which are US$40 million to US$50 million per plane, it would cost less to buy training and attack jet fighters that are less than one-10th of the cost and deploy those to intercept Chinese warplanes that approach Taiwanese airspace.
Affordable airplanes — with savings going to staff and operational costs — is a good way to reduce overall government spending and enhance diplomatic ties.
Chang Feng-lin is a university lecturer.
Translated by Edward Jones and Perry Svensson
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