This year’s installment of the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE) marked a subtle change in Taiwan’s military procurement. Now more than ever the Ministry of National Defense and its partner institutions are localizing production for weapon systems and related technologies. Although the alliance with the US is alive and well, fresh arms sales are few and far between. This resulted in Taiwan being unable to upgrade its air force, air defenses, armor, and deploy its own submarines.
During TADTE 2017, held at an exhibition space from August 17 to 19, government sponsored innovation commanded the show floor. The event served as proof Taiwan is fully capable of manufacturing world class military products. The best example are its ambitious plans to roll out a new light fighter, a model of which was displayed on a pedestal, with at least 60 aircraft scheduled for completion by 2026.
During the 1990s Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) manufactured 102 twin engine Ching-Kuo multirole fighters for the air force. At the time Taiwan still enjoyed a clear technological advantage over China’s own large but inefficient military. But unlike other US allies in the region, such as Japan and South Korea, Taiwan isn’t receiving F-35A’s. Nor can it afford more upgraded F-16’s. An interim solution is developing a trainer and attack aircraft hybrid.
Taiwan’s military technology is definitely on par with its East Asian neighbors. A new type of land attack cruise missile was shown in TADTE 2017 and this munition will no doubt equip the country’s fighter aircraft. Land attack cruise missiles only make sense if there are contingencies to target infrastructure in mainland China.
It’s worth pointing out that behind the land attack missile in the photo are two trucks that form a complete air defense system. One carries a quartet of SAMs while its partner mounts a 40mm remote controlled cannon. Both are made in Taiwan.
Much of Taiwan’s domestic R&D is driven by the Chung-shan Institute and its partner institutions. A recent breakthrough for Chung-shan was to spearhead drone production. Taiwan is now capable of assembling its own MALE UAVs along with other models, such as loitering munitions. These are small airframes containing explosive payloads and can search for its target before engaging in a suicide attack.
Taiwan’s rocket and missile technology is nothing to sniff at. Whether it’s multiple-rocket launch systems, theater air defense systems, or anti-ship missiles, Taiwan is capable of making all of these.
Spotted at TADTE 2017 was an inert APPL-9C rocket made by the secretive Advanced Rocket Research Center (ARRC). Its existence could suggest a budding space program for delivering satellite payloads in orbit.
Hundreds of products were featured in TADTE 2017, including simulation systems that are now becoming essential for training soldiers. Of course, many exhibitors at TADTE were American defense contractors who still enjoy a captive market in Taiwan. But Taiwan has moved away from total reliance on the US in many small ways.
Taiwan is capable of developing its own small arms and ammunition. This extends to assault rifles, mortars, and various types of ordnance. On display at TADTE 2017 were two variants of its CM-32 wheeled APC. One of the models was configured to carry a 120mm mortar in its passenger compartment. The CM-32 is perfect for Taiwan’s urban streets and mountainous terrain. It can be adapted for different roles, from an ambulance to a recovery vehicle, even a light tank armed with a 105mm gun.
The prevailing idea that still governs Taiwan’s national security apparatus is the likelihood of a Chinese invasion. This explains some of the oddities spotted at TADTE 2017 like the rocket launcher pictured above–it’s supposed to saturate an area with explosive munitions. This should work along an exposed stretch of beach or coastline.
Taiwan doesn’t have a means of exporting its domestically produced arms yet. But a wealth of skill and expertise among its state-owned and private sector companies does give its armed forces a unique supply chain tailored for its needs. This relationship is expected to grow deeper under President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration as the island country sets its sight on ever more ambitious projects: like its own diesel-electric submarine.