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DSA 2018: Taiwan Flaunts Its Weaponry For ASEAN Customers

April 30, 2018

An inert medium-range air-to-air missile on display at the TADTE 2017 arms show in Taipei.

Malaysia’s biggest arms show played host to a very rare collection of exhibitors two weeks ago. For the first time ever, Taiwan’s mysterious defense sector was taking part. Based on a public index of companies participating in this year’s Defense Services Asia, the 202nd, 203rd, and 204th Arsenals together with the 401st Plant commanded their own floor space in hopes of enticing new customers.

But Taiwan’s unannounced participation in DSA 2018 only attracted a modicum of coverage and the sudden visibility its exhibitors enjoyed didn’t produce any transactions. Then why did Taipei send its armaments manufacturers abroad?

Taiwan’s domestic armaments industry still doesn’t get enough attention. Every two years, in fact, both state-owned and private companies gather for the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE) to showcase their latest products at an event that hardly resonates anywhere. During this year’s DSA, however, it seems Taipei made a point to promote its “Materiel Production Center,” a low-key office that oversees any manufacturing done for the Taiwanese armed forces.

Unlike China, Taiwan never had an aggressive arms export policy. But there’s sufficient evidence Taipei has indeed transferred either dual-use equipment or light weapons to other countries on numerous occasions. The Philippine Navy, for example, operates a small fleet of Multipurpose Attack Craft assembled in a local shipyard but licensed from a Taiwanese manufacturer that’s responsible for the ROC Navy’s newest corvette.

The reason why Taiwan is now trying to attract serious customers among ASEAN members isn’t apparent yet. What Taipei offers regional militaries isn’t anything to scoff at though. There are at least a half dozen categories where Taiwanese weapon systems are very competitive and should fit in modest procurement budgets.

Taipei’s military-industrial sector was already manufacturing small arms a half century ago. Militaries seeking alternate ammunition suppliers (81mm and 120mm mortar shells, for example) can find a dependable partner in Taiwan’s homegrown ordnance factories. Anti-tank weapons are available from the island nation as well like the Kestrel disposable rocket launcher.

Taiwan’s “Cloud Leopard” wheeled APC should be turning heads in ASEAN even if its export status is uncertain. Local companies do assemble different kinds of armored vehicles but these have never been sold abroad. The ROC Army’s newest 8×8 APC is built to the same standard as its Western European counterparts. It’s also meant to carry alternating primary weapons, whether it’s a 30mm cannon or a 120mm self-propelled mortar.

Various types of artillery are made in Taiwan. One of the most potent is the RT2000 mobile rocket artillery system that’s designed to launch short, medium, and long-range munitions. The RT2000 may not have a clear analog among NATO countries but should hold its own up against the US HIMARS or similar MLRS’ from Israel and South Korea.

Air forces that need to boost their ISR capabilities should be aware of Taiwan’s understated drone fleet. While China has enlarged its slice of the UAV market in the past decade, Taiwan’s state-owned aerospace sector has thrived despite not having any customers. Whether it’s a prop-driven MALE suited for long-range flights or a smaller twin-boom airframe or even a kamikaze drone, these are all available in Taiwan. Believe it or not, there are prop-driven light trainer planes made in Taiwan.

Owing to its reliance on the US, the full extent of Taiwan’s state-owned military industries remains obscure. But a startling variety of smart munitions are made in Taiwan. These include air-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and a possible launch vehicle for a national space program.

There might not have been any major contracts signed at DSA 2018 involving a Taiwanese exhibitor, but the potential revenues from genuine arms exports in the region should entice Taipei to try and try again.

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