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Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter F-CK-I

The Indigenous Defense Fighter is widely regarded as a relatively unsophisticated aircraft, incapable of holding its ground against the fourth generation fighters now in the possession of the Chinese air force. When the plane was first produced, people ridiculed the plane's English acronym as being short for "I Don't Fly." However, it has now been proven that the IDF not only can fly, but also does an excellent job with what it was designed to do. The aircraft not only flies well, but also has experienced a very limited number of mishaps, and after all this time in service it is still a valuable aircraft that is worthy of an upgrade.

After the severance of diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in January 1979, the future supply of military equipment for Taiwan's armed forces was in question. Thanks to the enactment of the the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) in early 1979, Taiwan was able to purchase advanced weapons and military equipment from the US.

Taiwan built nearly 300 Northrop F-5s under license from 1974 to 1986. From the early 1980's, Taiwan expressed an interest in purchasing US fighter aircraft to replace its obsolescent Northrop F-5 and Lockheed F-104 fighters. The United States, which was interested in improving relations with China, denied Taiwan's request to purchase the more capable F-16, and blocked a subsequnetly proposed $1 billion sale of 100 F-20 Tigersharks in July 1982. The 1982 decision by the Reagan administration to bar export of new fighters to Taiwan left technical assistance unrestricted. Taiwan decided to go it alone to build the Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF).

In line with the ROC Air Force operational need in 1990s and in order to develop independent defense technology and continue to control air supremacy over the Taiwan Strait, the AIDC, on October 28 1980, under the instruction of the late President, Chian ching-kuo, began to develop an indigenous defense fighter. Its prototype was rolled out on Dec. 10, 1988 and was named “ching kuo” and became ROC's first indigenous advanced fighter. The first test flight was accomplished on May 28, 1998. The prototype of the dual-seat aircraft and its test flight were completed in the same year. For the purpose of evaluating the IDF's performance and effectiveness in the real combat scenario, a small number of lead-in aircraft were delivered to the ROCAF. On February 14, 1992, the first Lead-in IDF completed its test flght and then was handed over to the ROCAF under the supervision of General Liu, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. On 22 Nov. 1993, 10 lead-in IDFs were handed over to our air force as cheduled. The ROCAF started to take delivery of series production IDFs from January 1994. Featured with BVR capability, this aircraft can launch Tien Chien-ll ( Skysword-II ) medium range air-to-air missile.

Taiwan produced the Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter with extensive assistance by American corporations, led by General Dynamics. The project consisted of four sub-projects. They were the Ying-yang project (in cooperation with General Dynamics Corporation) which made the air-frame; the Yun-han project (in cooperation with Hughes Corporation), which designed the engine; the Tian-lei project (in cooperation with Westinghouse Company), which took care of the avionics system; and the Tian-chien project, which developed the weapons system.

The twin-engine IDF is similar to the F-16 except that it is slightly smaller and has a slightly shorter range. The IDF is a hybrid as far as its external appearance is concerned. The nose of the fighter jet is a replica of the F-20A Tigershark, while ts body, wings, and vertical tail surface are apparently lifted from the F-16, and the shape of its cockpit hood and vertical tail wing and its girth near the engine inlets have a notable French flavor.

The IDF's engines are only about as powerful as the F5 it replaces, leading to criticisms that the IDF is underpowered. It has been speculated that that's because of political pressure from the US, which worried that long-range fighters could provoke Mainland China. The IDF is superior to the F-5E in airborne performance. The IDF accelerates better than the F-104 and its turning radius is smaller than that of the F-5. The aircraft, equipped with four Sidewinder missiles, but without spare fuel tanks, has a combat endurance of three minutes on afterburner and a combat radius of between 70 and 90 nautical miles. With a combat radius of 600 nautical miles while carrying out armed reconnaissance and patrol missions, the IDF is capable of conducting preemptive raids and strikes at airports along the Chinese coast. It is mainly used in combat for air control and is capable of using "Hsiung Feng"-II missiles to attack targets at sea. Most of the IDFs are expected to be armed with the indigenously-produced, BVR Tien Chien-II (Sky Sword-II) ARAAM.

It is equipped with a GD-53 radar, which evolved from the APG-67 and is essentially similar to it in performance. The APG-67 radar uses pulse Doppler technology at X-band and has 15 operational modes in all, eight air-to-air and seven air-to-ground. It can also operate at three different pulse repetition frequencies [PRF]--high, medium, and low--depending on whether the plane is looking up, looking down, or involved in a dogfight in the air, respectively. In a look-down mode, the plane has an effective scanning range of 39 kilometers; looking up, 57 kilometers. The eight air-to-air modes are as follows: searching and range finding while looking down, searching and range finding while looking up, speed searching, tracking (10 targets) and scanning simultaneously, dogfight, tracking a single target, surveying the situation, and continuous-wave indicator interfacing. The seven air-to-ground modes are as follows: real wave velocity topography, Doppler wave velocity sharpening, air-to-ground range finding, moving surface target indicating, freezing, and searching for target at sea surface. In April 1997 Litton's Applied Technology division was awarded a production contract and options totaling $116.2 million by the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation of Taiwan, ROC, for Improved Radar Warning Receivers (IRWR) to be installed aboard the Indigenous Defense Fighter.

Despite its compact and light external design, the IDF is fitted with two large engines short on propulsive force. The fatal weakness of the IDF is inadequate engine propulsion, and its excess body weight has made the plane accident-prone. Initial versions of the IDF have a top speed of Mach 1.2, using an engine jointly produced by Taiwan and Allied Signal Garret Engine Division. The TFE1042-70 engine was designed for lightweight fighter/attack applications to provide improved aircraft performance and reduced life-cycle costs. The first production TFE1042-70 engine was delivered to Taiwan in 1992, and since then ITEC has delivered more than 300 production engines for the IDF. The International Turbine Engine Corporation (ITEC) operates through a joint venture between AlliedSignal Engines and the Aero Industrial Development Corp. of the Republic of China. The plan to replace its existing engine with a more powerful one was scrapped because of the commissioning of the F-16 and Mirage 2000. A higher thrust version of the engine would be incorporated into a more capable successor designated the Advanced Defensive Fighter.

Manufacture of the initially planned 250 IDFs was initially estimated at $4.2 billion with a unit cost between $25 and $30 million. At least $1 billion was invested in propulsion and avionics.

The IDF was manufactured and assembled in Taichung, which is the manufacturing center of Taiwan's aerospace industry. The Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation is Taiwan's leading manufacturer of military aircraft, including the IDF. With a work force of 6000 employees, AIDC was established in 1969 under the Ministry of Defense as the Aero Industry Development Center (AIDC). The AT-3 advanced trainer, a twin-turbofan aircraft, was designed, developed and produced by the AIDC. In cooperation with Bell Helicopter Inc., it has produced the UH-1H helicopter. Joining forces with the Northrop Corporation, it jointly produced the F-5E/F fighter plane. The T-53 engine was built in cooperation with Textron Lycoming Inc., while both the TFE731 and TFE1042 engines were jointly manufactured with the Allied Signal Aerospace Company. The organization was renamed Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation effective 01 July 1996, when it was moved under the aegis of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The change of the overseeing agency is seen as a step in the direction of privatization by the year 2000. The Taiwan Aerospace Corporation (TAC) is a private company in which the government holds a 29 percent stake. TAC provides several parts for the IDF, including frames and bulk-heads.

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. By 1997 some 60 had been built, and production of all 130 IDFs was scheduled to be completed by early 2000.

The ROC Air Force cut its order of 250 IDFs to 130 after September 1991, in the wake of jet-fighter deals with the United States and France. Taiwan remaining requirements were partially filled when the Bush Administration agreed to sell 150 F-16's, a decision made with an understanding that Taiwan already possessed the capability of producing advanced fighters. For the remaining shortfall Taiwan ordered 60 Mirage 2000 fighters from France. Taiwan purchased 120 single-seat F-16A models and 30 two- seat F-16B models. On-island deliveries, which began in April 1997, were scheduled for completiong by the end of 1999. These aircraft are armed with upgraded AIM-7M/SPARROW SAR and AIM-9P4 and AIM-9S SIDEWINDER IR AAMs. Deliveries of 60 French-built Mirage 2000-5s also began in April 1997 and were completed by October 1998. 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 first squadron of IDFs joined the ROC Air Force in December 1994, with each carrying a price tag of US$24 million. As of early December 1994, 32 IDF fighter planes were stationed at Ching-chuan-kang Air Force Base. Production of all 130 IDFs was completed in early 2000. After the delivery of the 130th IDF the assembly line was shut down.

The IDF was never a world-class fighter, and when Taiwan was able to buy modern F-16s from the United States and Mirage 2000s from France, the government cancelled the IDF program. The last plane rolled off the AIDC assembly line in 2000, leaving AIDC with a spacious plant filled with little-used machines and too many workers.

In 2001, the government began a plan to upgrade 71 existing IDFs. Those upgrades include new weapons systems and control computer enhancements. As the IDFs were designed more than 20 years earlier, in 2008 the Aerospace Industry Development Corp (AIDC) proposed a NT$7 billion (US$230 million) project to upgrade the aircraft, but the Cabinet did not immediately approve the program.

In August 2010, three commercial arms sales related to Taiwan’s air defense radar system and upgrades of existing radars on Taiwan’s Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) ?were approved by the U.S. government. President Ma Ying-jeou attended a ceremony on 30 June 2011 in the Shalu District of Taichung City marking the delivery of upgraded, locally made Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) aircraft. The president expressed his appreciation to the employees of Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) for their work on the aircraft, and reiterated the government's commitment to maintaining the ROC's defense capabilities and honing the nation's ability to produce warplanes on its own.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers, head of the Washington-based U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, argues that "The IDF program has consistently failed to live up to expectation... In concept and delivery, the platform remains a poor substitute for F-16s. The IP transfers involved in the initial production never resulted in a platform that met expectations, that could be produced for export, nor follow-on programs that might benefit Taiwan’s indigenous defense industry.”

The IDF was designed with the J-8 im mind as a possible foe, and was intend to have performance which can compare with F-16B and Mirage 2000. But due to political reason, AIDC only can use weaker engines which is provided by America. So the final version of IDF is relatively underpowered, despite its light weight.

Because the F-CK-1A/B (IDF) is basically a lightweight air defense-oriented aircraft designed with very low fuel fraction ( < 25%), its operational value is severely restricted due to limited payload/range capability and endurance. For this reason, TAF would much prefer to convert some of its F-CK-1A/Bs to the LIFT/OCU role, if a more suitable fighter (like the F-16C/D) could be acquired to supplant its un-upgraded F-CK-1A/Bs on the front line.

It's unclear just how appropriate converting F-CK-1s to Lead-In Fighter Training (LIFT) would be, particularly as most of the Taiwan IDF fleet consists of single-seat models not well suited to the training role.

Taiwan has been quite reluctant to invest heavily in the MLU for the remaining 56 F-CK-1A/Bs that belong to the 427th Taiwan Fighter Wing based at CCK AFB in Taichung, as it would yield only a very marginal improvement in capability. An upgrade for this second batch of F-CK-1A/Bs was originally scheduled for program start in 2013, with completion in 2017, at a cost of US$534 million (NT$15.71 billion). The persistent U.S. Government refusal to formally consider Taiwan’s request for new F-16C/Ds may force MND to support this clearly ineffective investment, despite the collateral budget impact from the F-16A/B upgrade program.

IDF-II "Hsiung Ying" ("Goshawk")

AIDC launched the seven-year Hsiang Sheng (Soaring Upgrade) program in 2000, when the Cabinet allocated $225.5 million to turn two air-interdiction IDFs into "joint strike fighters" with longer range and larger payloads. The most prominent change on the Indigenous Defence Fighter II “Goshawk” fighter aircraft is the conformal fuel tank clearly visible above the wing.

The upgrade allowed the IDF to carry an extra 771 kilograms of fuel and payload, doubles the loadout of Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword) air-to-air missiles to four, and added the ability to carry the Tien Chien 2A anti-radiation missile and the Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) bomb, both produced by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST). It also upgraded the mission computer, electronic warfare system and radar.

An undated handout photo made available 09 October 2006 by Taiwan's military-owned aircraft maker Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) showed a prototype of the improved version of the home-grown Indigenous Defence Fighter. The prototype has four air-to-air missiles, an improved anti-radiation missile and a "Wan Chien" (Ten Thousand Swords) cluster bomb. The plane would also have upgraded mission computers, electronic warfare systems, an advanced "identification friend or foe" system and improved terrain-following and radar systems. Taiwan on 09 April 2007 unveiled an upgraded home-made fighter jet which President Chen Shui-bian said demonstrated the island's determination to defend itself against rival China. A prototype of the sleek twin-seater fighter, an improved version of the Ching-Kuo Indigenous Defence Fighter IDF-II, scrambled for take-off at the Chingchuankang airbase in central Taiwan.

Referring to the modified Indigenous Defense Fighter-II (IDF-II) "Hsiung Ying" ("Goshawk"), President Chen Shui-bian said in March 2007 he hoped the new model would protect the homeland with the ferocity of a Taiwan goshawk. The military unveiled the upgraded version of its locally produced indigenous defense fighter (IDF) warplane, to help boost the nation's defenses against China until Taipei can purchase more modern fighter planes from the West. Vice President Annette Lu, who accompanied Chen to the test flight and naming ceremony at the AIDC in Taichung County, mistakenly referred to the new model as the "Taiwan bald eagle."

Costing the military seven billion Taiwan dollars (212.12 million US) in a project launched in 2001, the Goshawk had increased its endurance time with the installation of two additional fuel tanks, the AIDC said. The new fighter has upgraded mission computers and an advanced fire control radar system, and will be armed with four medium-range air-to-air missiles, it said, adding service entry was scheduled for 2010 if further development was successful.

AIDC launched the IDF-II Xiang Sheng (Soaring Upgrade) program in 2000, when the Cabinet allocated $225.5 million to transform two air-interdiction IDFs into strike fighters with longer range and bigger payloads. The IDF-II can carry an additional 771 kilograms of fuel and payload, doubles the load of Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword) air-to-air missiles to four, and adds the ability to carry the Tien Chien 2A anti-radiation missile and the Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) cluster bomb.

The Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) is Taiwan’s first joint standoff weapon, was unveiled in January 2013. Modeled after the US-built AGM-154 and the European-built Storm Shadow, the missile is meant to allow Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) to attack runways. This will allow Taiwan to take any fight with China “downtown”. By 2014 the IDF was waiting to begin upgrades of its second wing to handle the Wan Chien. The first wing of IDFs finished its mid-life upgrade program in 2013.

Despite the completion of the upgrade project, the military has yet to decide on whether to upgrade the island's existing IDF fleet.

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