TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In the wake of the tragic Kiowa helicopter crash on Thursday (July 16), concerns have grown over Taiwan’s remaining fleet of the observation helicopters.
According to the Army’s Aviation and Special Forces Command, the helicopter belonging to the 601st brigade was returning to Lung Tan from Hsinchu Air Force base after performing combat readiness operations when the rotor speed slowed, resulting in a hard landing at Hsinchu base. The pilot, Army Major Chien Jen-chuan (簡任專), and the co-pilot, Captain Kao Chia-lung (高嘉隆), both suffered serious injuries in the crash and later died in the hospital.
The U.S. military began gradually phasing out its Kiowa helicopters in batches in 2013 and retired the last one in 2017. Meanwhile, the Taiwanese Army still has 37 OH-58Ds in its fleet and has spent more than NT$490 million (US$166 million) to purchase enough spare parts for 12 years, Liberty Times reported.
The OH-58D is currently still being flown in Croatia, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and a few other countries.
In response to their retirement from the U.S. military, Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a senior analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, pointed out that the U.S. had already planned to replace Vietnam War-era rotorcraft with the new AH-64E Apache Guardian, which utilizes the advanced Longbow radar. Therefore, the U.S. could afford to retire its Kiowa and complementary SuperCobra helicopters.
Su said that the Taiwanese military purchased Kiowa helicopters to supplement its SuperCobras, which it bought from the U.S. at the same time. Given that Taiwan has enough spare parts for 12 years and that the Kiowa can still play a role in battlefield observation and launching raids, he stated there is no reason for them to be retired yet.
Former Deputy Air Force Commander Chang Yen-ting ((張延廷) said that as long as quality control is done well, a high standard of repairs is maintained, and materials and parts are new, there are no problems with the rotorcraft continuing service.
In addition, he remarked that it has been more than 60 years since the first U.S. B-52 bomber was launched and yet they are still in active service to this day. It is obvious that military aircraft can be flown as long as they are properly maintained, have strict maintenance standards in place, and are regularly overhauled.
Chang concluded that as Taiwan’s defense budget is not sufficient to always be buying new hardware, it would be a pity to phase out the OH-58D helicopter so soon.