The latest tender notice on the Government e-Procurement System shows that the air force signed a service contract with French Mirage jet manufacturer Dassault Aviation, costing more than NT$150 million (US$4.86 million). The three-year program would increase the lifespan of two-seater Dassault Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets, which contain old technology, but there is a good reason for extending their service.
The Mirage 2000 is the mainstay of Taiwan’s air force. The Lockheed Martin General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons and the AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-kuo, commonly known as Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF), have already completed their mid-life upgrades.
After the F-16s were upgraded, the air force asked France to upgrade the Mirage fighters, but due to pressures stemming from global issues at that time, it refused the request.
The 54 Mirage jets are often subject to calls for their decommissioning, due to their dated 1990s technology, the lack of available spare component suppliers, the difficulty of integrating them with US-developed systems and high operating costs.
However, this life extension program might have several advantages.
First, the program should buy time to further research and develop the Advanced Defense Fighter project and the procurement of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets. The government has already started the early research and development of the project, but it has not yet been scheduled, forcing Aerospace Industrial Development Corp, Taiwan’s leading aircraft manufacturer and defense contractor, to develop basic trainer aircraft as a backup. Taiwan has yet to receive approval to purchase US-made F-35s.
The upgrade program benefits not only Taiwan, but also France, as it can rebuild consumer confidence in French armaments.
France’s foreign and security policies are heavily influenced by Gaullism, which favors a centralized state and a united society. With this priority, France usually competes with other top military countries, such as the US, Russia, the UK and China, for the ammunition market while winning the favor of less developed countries. If Taiwan cannot receive any upgrades to the Mirage 2000s, this would adversely affect confidence in French armaments.
Manufacturers have started lobbying the US and Taiwanese governments to buy McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, F-16 and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft. F/A-18 Hornets have been the focal point in Taiwan. If the upgrade program cannot be promoted and US aircraft are purchased instead, French armaments would shrink in the market.
Another benefit is that the program could save the arms procurement budget.
For the air force, which faces payment on the delivery of 66 new F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft, upgrading the older fighters is more economical than buying new ones. If France allows the program, it would relieve pressure on the budget, and old fighters would still be available.
Another factor is that when Taiwan purchased the Mirages in 1992, France only provided air-to-air missiles, but this upgrade program might solve this shortfall.
If the air force can extend the service lives of old combat jets and procure the air-launched Storm Shadow stealth cruise missile, which has an excellent performance record in the Ukraine War, the Mirage 2000s could have the same stand-off ranges as F-16s and IDFs.
With long-range strike capability, the Mirage 2000 jets can offer the utmost air power capabilities, increasing their effectiveness in defending Taiwan.
Chu-Ke Feng-yun is a university assistant professor. He blogs about military affairs./
Translated by Polly Chiu
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