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Facing adversity, Taiwan looks to build own arsenal

Locally-made weapons boon to industry, but observers say program still in infancy

Facing adversity, Taiwan looks to build own arsenal

The "made in Taiwan" label typically found on electronics and other mass consumer goods has now found its way onto fighter jets and armored vehicles.
Faced with growing difficulty buying arms from its main ally and supplier, the United States, Taiwan is turning to home-grown weapons production to counter a perceived threat from neighboring China.
China's military spending is growing at double-digit rates, while chronic political wrangling in Taiwan has all but grounded the island's procurement of key weapons.
Taiwan's military currently procures only around 30 percent of its equipment domestically, with the remainder sourced largely from the United States. Vice Admiral Wu Wei-rong, head of the Defense Ministry's armaments bureau, says Taipei now wants to boost its home-grown procurement to 60 percent by 2017.
"Whatever the civilian businesses can do, we will try our best to hand it off to private industry," Wu said at this month's Taipei Aerospace and defense Technology Exhibition.
The defense ministry is aiming to allocate NT$67.3 billion (US$2 billion) of its 2007 budget - or around 22 percent of total military spending - for procurement from domestic firms, and raise that figure still further to NT$90.6 billion by 2011.
Taiwan says Beijing has around 1,000 missiles aimed at the island. China also announced in March it would boost defense spending by 17.8 percent to about US$45 billion this year, though a Pentagon report said spending could be over twice that. Taiwan's 2007 defense budget was around US$9.2 billion.
Taiwan has already developed 130 Indigenous Defense Fighters, Hsiung Feng anti-ship missiles and more recently a prototype for an eight-wheeled armored vehicle, the Clouded Leopard, which is armed with a 105-mm turret gun.
Local companies have benefited from a requirement that buying foreign military hardware must be accompanied by technology transfers and personnel training, known as offsets.
In one such case, Taiwan global positioning device maker Mitac International Corp joined U.S. military giant Lockheed Martin in supplying a cross-service joint operation command system with hardware worth over an estimated US$1 billion.
"We use Lockheed Martin for on-the-job training and technology transfers," said Billion Wan, associate vice president of Mitac's new technology division.
State-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. also announced at the aerospace and defense exhibition that it would jointly provide, with Pratt & Whitney, maintenance for the engines of the air force's U.S.-made F-16 fighters.
But building an integrated defense industry takes time and industry observers said Taiwan is still in its infancy.
As a case in point, the home-grown IDFs now in service encountered numerous problems in their development, with critics joking that the IDF acronym stands for "I Don't Fly."
Building a domestic production base has taken on added importance for Taiwan, where opposition parties have blocked a multi-billion-dollar budget to buy a package of weapons offered by the United States in 2001.
That delay has added to frustration in Washington over the China-baiting rhetoric of independence-leaning President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), and it has become increasingly reluctant to sign off on additional requests.
"Taiwan needs to maintain an indigenous defense manufacturing base," said Wendell Minnick, U.S. Defense News Asia bureau chief.
"Should the U.S. ever abandon Taiwan, it would need to have the option of producing quality weapons systems. Taiwan has already seen rejections from the U.S. government for a variety of weapons requests."


Updated : 2021-05-09 19:28 GMT+08:00