The Taiwan Air Force had about 70,000 personnel and nearly 400 combat aircraft by 2015. The inventory at the turn of the century included approximately 200 older F-5E/F fighters and over 100 more modern Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs). By 2006 Taiwan had 146 F-16s, 56 Mirage-2000s and 128 IDFs in its current fleet as well as more than 60 F-5Es. The F-16 and Mirage-2000 fighters would remain in service for another 15 to 20 years, to be phased out in the 2020-2025 timeframe.
The IDF 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.
Taiwan’s airpower situation is deteriorating and replacement of its tactical aircraft is necessary if it is to maintain even a minimal military capability with respect to the mainland. By 2010 Taiwan's force of modern fighters was nearly out-numbered by the mainland's Su-27 fleet, and certainly outclassed. Sometime after the year 2020 the new J-20 stealth fighters would enter service in significant numbers, and even a few dozen such aircraft might be expected to make short work of Taiwan's fighter force.
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 2015 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.
- Minister of National Defense Lee Jye told a press conference in January 2006 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.
- Minister of National Defense Lee Jye said in January 2006 that the ministry asked the US to sell Taiwan a number of decommissioned US F-15 Eagle fighters in the 2005 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, the air force had evaluated the decommissioned F-15 fighters and decided they were too old to meet its requirements.
- By 2015 the Air Force’s AT-3 and F-5 training jets were nearing the end of their respective service life and in critical need of upgrades. From a readiness and capabilities perspective, domestically developed jet trainers boast a high degree of compatibility and carry the advantage of being able to be rapidly used in combat missions or to supplement depleted first-line aircraft. Development would require 2-3 years and an additional upfront R&D expenditure of approximately NT$45 billion.
Taiwan does not have a cost-effective means to address TAF’s fighter capability shortfall caused by F-5 obsolescence. Taiwan’s Mirage 2000 fleet suffered from very high Operations & Maintenance (O&M) costs and chronically low availability rates. The per flight hour cost of a Mirage 2000-5 fighter was more than triple that of an indigenous F-CK-1A/B (IDF), and almost five times that of an F-16A/B. While The TAF poured substantial funding into addressing the Mirage issues fomr 2008 to 2010, leading to improvements in material readiness. But a tight O&M budget situation would almost certainly ensure a relapse into low Mirage material readiness over coming. Taiwan may resort to mothballing part of the fleet to conserve resources, and the combination of F-5 obsolescence and strained Mirage supportability will create a substantial shortfall of fighter aircraft for the TAF.
A generally accepted minimum number of operational fighter aircraft Taiwan must field at the start of hostilities, given the size of the Chinese combat aircraft fleet deployed opposite Taiwan, stands at approximately 360~400 aircraft.
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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