The Taiwan Air Force has about 70,000 personnel and over 400 combat aircraft. The current inventory includes approximately 180 older F-5E/F fighters and over 100 more modern Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs). The IDF has faced numerous developmental and operational problems since its inception in the 1980s. Nevertheless, its technical sophistication, with its fly-by-wire controls and blended wing-body design, is believed to be superior to any aircraft produced and deployed by China to date. Production of all 130 IDFs was completed in early 2000. Most of the IDFs are expected to be armed with the indigenously-produced, BVR Tien Chien-II (Sky Sword-II) AR AAM.
The island only has 500 operational combat aircraft versus 2,300 on the other side of the strait. More worryingly, this does not take into account the age of the aircraft operated by Taiwan. The F-5 is at the end of its operational life; the Indigenous Defense Fighter lacks the capability for sustained sorties; the Mirage 2000-5 is increasingly grounded due to expensive and frequent maintenance requirements; and the F-16 A/B will be temporarily out of service for upgrades after 2012. Taiwan continues to urge the United States to ex-pedite the sale of F-16 C/D fighter jets to bolster the island’s defense.
Taiwan's fighter force increased by one-third during the late 1990s, with the bulk of the force consisting of nearly 300 modern first-class aircraft. With deliveries completed in early 2000, Taiwan's air force enjoyed its greatest advantage relative to China in recent memory, though this advantage subsequently eroded as Mainland modernization plans were fullfilled.
Taiwan also has purchased 150 F-16 fighters from the United States: 120 single-seat "A" models and 30 two- seat "B" models. On-island deliveries, which began in April 1997, were completed by the end of 1999 [by which time four aircraft had been lost to accidents]. These aircraft are armed with upgraded AIM-7M/SPARROW SAR and AIM-9P4 and AIM9S SIDEWINDER IR AAMs. Deliveries of 60 French-built Mirage 2000-5s also began in April 1997 and were completed by October 1998 [though by early 2000 two aircraft had been lost to accidents]. With its four MICA active radar (AR) and two MAGIC II infrared (IR) AAMs, the Mirage 2000-5 is Taiwan's most formidable air defense fighter.
The TAF's current strategy is to employ the IDF for low altitude interception and ground attack; the F-16 for mid altitude offshore interception and ground attack; and, the Mirage 2000-5 for high altitude offshore interception. Taiwan also is planning an upgrade program for about 100 F-5 fighters. The systemic integration and generational problems that affect Taiwan's overall forces with respect to modernization apparently are having the greatest impact on the TAF, where the technology curve is highest.
Notes on Equipment
- C-119: By January 1995, all C-119 were retired when the last of 20 C-130H ordered from US reached Taiwan.
- ROCAF only operates S-70C-1 and S-70C-6. 14 S-70C-1 were ordered in the mid 1980s. (#7002 lost on 11.05.1995) ROCAF ordered 4 S-70C-6 Super Bluehawks in 1998 and two were converted to VIP use.
- The whole ROCAF C-119 fleet was stood down on Jan. 1995. The Boeing 727 fleet was gone by 2000.
- By 1995, only one squadron of F-104G was active at any one time.
- Only 7-8 aircraft were converted to RF-104G and active in the squadron at any one time.
- ACH-1 were all gone by 1995/1996. None are in service as of now.
- All F-5E will be gone by 2010 or later.
- In 2004 the Defence Ministry authorised the Air Force to expand its SAR squadron towards a strength of 20 helicopters from a current inventory of 10 Sikorsky S-70C-1s and seven S-70C-6s. The service began evaluating a variant of Sikorsky's UH-60 Black Hawk similar to the SAR platform it already operated. But the S-92, which was added to the candidate list in 2005, became the favourite to meet an initial three-aircraft requirement. This could lead to a follow-on deal for a further 10 helicopters to replace the S-70C-1s.
- On 03 October 2008 the US Defense Department notified Congress 03 October 2008 that it had approved the sale of a US$6.46 billion package of weapons to Taiwan. The sales would cover some of the $12-billion package approved by President George W. Bush in 2001. That package was held up by debate in Taiwan's legislature. The Bush Administration approved the sale of a package of weapons to Taiwan that included 330 advanced capability Patriot (PAC-3) missiles worth up to $3.1 billion, and 30 Apache attack helicopters valued at $2.5 billion, along with 32 Harpoon sub-launched missiles, 182 Javelin guided missiles, and four E-2T system upgrades. The US did not, however, approve diesel-electric submarines and Black Hawk helicopters that Taiwan had sought.
Taiwan has established an air defense early warning network which, when used in conjunction with its ground-based SAMs and fourth-generation tactical aircraft, appears to pose a credible deterrent against an air attack from the mainland. Taiwan has replaced its old SKY NET air defense network with a new network called STRONG NET to provide a comprehensive picture of the surrounding airspace.
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