Thursday, May 31, 2012

Possible Chinese development of Type 081 LHD causes alarm in Taiwan

Design plans for the 22,000-tonne Type 081 LHD
By as early as 2014, the Chinese navy could have at its disposal a vessel that could dramatically change the face of an amphibious attack on Taiwan 

A 22,000-tonne landing helicopter dock (LHD) under development in China has sparked alarm in defense circles in Taiwan, with some analysts saying the ship could cause a “strategic shift” in the Taiwan Strait. 

The design, first unveiled by state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Co (CSIC, 中國船舶重工集團公司) — the country’s largest shipbuilding conglomerate — at the Defense and Security 2012 exhibition in Bangkok in early March, is believed to be the Type 081 LHD that defense enthusiasts have been expecting for years. 

According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, CSIC confirmed the existence of a Type 081 program in 2007, but at the time it refused to disclose further details. The design phase of the vessel was reportedly completed in 2006, with engineering design beginning soon afterwards. The 211m long LHD will be capable of carrying an impressive eight helicopters on deck, with hangar space for four more, or for hovercraft. It will also have capacity to accommodate 1,068 marines and will be equipped with phased-array radar, four short-range air-defense launchers and anti-submarine warfare capability. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Russia refuses to sell Su-35, S-400s to China

S-400 TELs at a military parade in Russia
Moscow has often complained about how China reverse-engineers its defense articles to produce cheaper versions that then compete with it on the exports market 

The Taiwanese air force will perhaps sigh in relief at the news that Russia is refusing to sell China Sukhoi Su-35 multirole aircraft — one of the world’s most advanced fighters — and top-of-the-line S-400 air defense systems over fears that Chinese engineers could eventually copy the technology. 

The Russian-language Kommersant business newspaper reported earlier this year that Beijing last year had requested 48 Su-35s, valued at more than US$4 billion, as well as an unspecified number of S-400 systems. 

With Taiwan already playing catch-up in the race for control of airspace in the Taiwan Strait, this development will provide relief, as the introduction of the Su-35 would have added to Taipei’s headaches.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

‘Backdoor’ in made-in-China computer chip threatens US military

No current means exists to protect hardware from viruses
The backdoor access could be turned into an advanced Stuxnet weapon to attack potentially millions of systems 

A computer chip manufactured in China that is used in US military equipment contains a secret “backdoor” that could severely compromise security, a team of scientists from Cambridge University says. 

In a recent report, Sergei Skorobogatov, a senior research associate at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory, wrote that his team had developed silicon chip scanning technology that allowed them to investigate claims by various intelligence services worldwide that silicon chips could be infected by malware, such as Stuxnet, that can allow a third party to gain access to or transmit confidential data. 

Unlike software, no means currently exist to protect hardware against viruses or Trojan horses, a critical vulnerability for defense systems that are hardware-reliant. 

For its research, Skorobogatov’s team selected a chip that was manufactured in China and is used by the US military. The chip, which is prevalent in many systems used in weapons, nuclear power plants and public transport, was considered highly secure and used sophisticated encryption standards. After performing advanced code breaking, the team found a backdoor they say had been inserted by the manufacturer. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

New PLA airforce base in Fujian sets sights on East China Sea

A satellite view of the Shuimen air base
The air base in Shuimen is about 70km from Taiwan’s Dongyin Island, where the military has deployed radar and surface-to-air missiles 

More information about a new airbase in China’s Fujian Province emerged over the weekend, with military intelligence sources saying the base appeared to be designed to bolster China’s claim to sovereignty over islets in the East China Sea.

Distances from Shuimen
Military sources said construction at Shuimen air base, located on a hilltop along the coast in Shuimen Township, was nearing completion. Satellite images of the airbase first emerged in 2009, with intelligence sources saying China had cleared a swathe of more than 2km at an altitude of 364m to make way for the airbase, the Chinese-language United Evening News reported over the weekend.

More recent satellite imagery of the area showed J-10 multirole combat aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) deployed at the base, with Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) being gradually introduced.
Presumably TELs at Shuimen
S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries have also been spotted at the base, the report said. These could be part of the two battalions, or eight batteries, of more advanced S-300PMU1 systems ordered from Russia in 2001, a US$400 million deal that included 32 transporter erector launchers (TEL) and a total of 198 missiles. The missile batteries could also be HQ-9s, a Chinese derivative of the S-300. The base is situated 246km from Taipei and 380km from the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), over which Taiwan, China and Japan claim sovereignty. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. My article on the same subject for JDW can be accessed here (subscription required).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Taiwanese air force faces plane shortage by 2020

A F-16A/B from the ROCAF takes off in Taiwan
Taiwan appears to have had a change of mind on the need to acquire new aircraft, a decision that will have serious repercussions on the balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait 

A US congressional report released this week makes it clear that, without the acquisition of new aircraft, the Taiwanese air force risks being a shadow of itself by 2020 and incapable of meeting the challenge it faces in the Taiwan Strait.

The annual report by the Congressional Research Service, titled Taiwan: Major US Arms Sales Since 1990 — which Defense News has called “required reading inside Taiwan defense circles and among US defense officials working with the island’s military” — provides a detailed analysis of US arms sales to Taiwan over more than two decades. 

The section on F-16 jet sales provides the greatest shock. By 2020, it says, the number of fighter aircraft in the air force would drop by 70 percent without the acquisition of new F-16s as it retires near-obsolete F-5s and some ageing Mirage 2000s, whose spare parts are reportedly extremely costly. Even if Taiwan were to acquire the 66 F-16C/Ds it has been requesting since 2006, the total number of aircraft would still have dropped by 50 percent by that time, the report says. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Qualifying China’s military posture

Officers hoist the PRC flag at a military parade
When China’s regional claims encompass pretty much the entire South China Sea, countries with interests in the area can be forgiven for having doubts about what Beijing means by ‘defensive’  

As expected, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense earlier this week reacted with indignation at the contents of the Pentagon’s latest report on the Chinese military, released last week. 

Like in previous years, Chinese officials deplored what they saw as a misrepresentation and unfair depiction of China’s military development, adding that US officials were “deliberately playing up the imbalance” of military power in the Taiwan Strait to justify arms sales to Taiwan. 

At a press conference on Monday, Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng (耿雁生) assured the world that, contrary to what the Pentagon report suggested, the Chinese military is developing “for the exclusive purpose of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty, security and developmental interests,” and that Beijing has “firmly adhered to a peaceful development path and adopted a defense policy that is wholly defensive in nature.” 

There is no denying that China is a rising power and that it should be allowed to develop a military that is commensurate with its economic might and growing role internationally. But what undercuts Geng’s reassurances is the fact that this development is showing signs that it is going well beyond a purely defensive posture, as well as confusion over what China actually means by defensive. 

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Taiwanese filming Chennault documentary, but ...

A KMT soldier stands guard in front of P-40 aircraft
Academia Historica, the nation’s top historical institution, gave the project to CtiTV, a media arm of the pro-China Want Want China Times group 

Crew from a Taiwanese film company spent hours filming former members of general Claire Lee Chennault’s Flying Tigers and his granddaughter in the US on Tuesday for a documentary commissioned by Academia Historica that could have a strong pro-China flavor. 

Nell Calloway, director of the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum and Chennault’s granddaughter, as well as several local members of the Flying Tigers — the famous air wing created by Chennault during World War II — will feature in the documentary. 

After Japan’s surrender, Chennault, an ally of former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), created the CIA’s clandestine Civil Air Transport (CAT) and Air America, which flew missions into China to drop agents and do reconnaissance against the communists. CAT also provided support for anti-communist forces in northern Burma (now known as Myanmar) and Tibet against Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) Chinese Communist Party troops. 

On Tuesday, a group from SKYEYE Film Production spent hours filming in Monroe, Louisiana, for the documentary, which is to be completed by the end of this year. According to the Monroe News Star, the documentary will be used by Academia Historica, which will distribute the film for “educational purposes.” 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here, with more details about the Sino-centric nature of the production company. This article completes an op-ed I published on efforts by China to “rehabilitate” Chennault and other anti-communists.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

War of Wits for Taiwan's Air Force

Lockheed Martin's F-35B in action
The F-35 could become a convenient tool to kill the F-16C/D program while maintaining the illusion that Taipei remains committed to acquiring advanced aircraft 

After years of frustrating efforts to acquire 66 F-16C/D aircraft from the United States, it’s now starting to look like Taiwan might finally get what it wants, with the Obama administration promising that it would give “serious consideration” to the matter, while the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed an amendment to the U.S. 2013 National Defense Authorization Act ordering the sale.

So at long last, the endeavors of two administrations could be close to fruition, and Taiwan might finally be within reach of getting both the upgrades and procuring the new F-16C/Ds.

But there’s a catch: some officials in Taiwan are now saying that Taipei can’t afford the two programs, and that the upgrades would be sufficient – at least for the time being. What they are saying is that rather than spend an estimated $10 billion on F-16C/Ds, whose qualitative edge over the upgraded F-16A/Bs they consider to be marginal, Taipei had better conserve that money for the future acquisition of aircraft with radar-evasive and vertical takeoff/landing capabilities. In other words, the F-35B.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Chinese Type 056 missile boat to launch within days

A Type 056 under construction
Defense analysts believe that the new missile boats will be perfectly suited to meet the challenges that China is facing in its South China Sea disputes 

A new type of Chinese missile corvette, the principal role for which might be to project power in the South China Sea, could be launched “within days,” military watchers said on the weekend. 

Talk of a Type 056 class first emerged in late 2010. So far, little technical information has been released about the corvettes, which are believed to lie in the 1,400-to-1,700-tonne category. 

Two shipyards, Hudong Shipyard in Shanghai and Huangpu Shipyard in Guangzhou, are engaged in what appears to be a race to complete the vessels. Officials at Hudong reportedly announced late last week that the first Type 056 corvette could be launched “within days,” with possible commissioning at the end of this year. A total of four hulls are known to be under construction, with completion expected to follow soon after the delivery of the lead ship. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Foreign journalists increasingly threatened in China

TV show host Yang Rui of CCTV
Recent incidents targeting foreigners in China are highlighting a xenophobic streak among Chinese officials that, for some, has fascist undertones 

The level of harassment and threats foreign journalists based in China are facing today is worse than ever, some are saying, following the expulsion of a reporter from Qatar-based TV network Al-Jazeera and comments by a top TV show host that exposed an alarming xenophobic streak within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

In a message posted on a popular China-based microblog last week, Yang Rui (楊銳), host of the popular show Dialogue, which is aired on state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), shared his views on how China should rid itself of “foreign trash,” a reference to a recent campaign launched by the Public Security Bureau that targets foreigners who work illegally in the country. 

“Cut off the foreign snake heads. People who can’t find jobs in the US and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration,” he wrote in Chinese. “Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists, while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, [South] Korea and the West.” 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here with Yang’s attack on Al-Jazeera’s Melissa Chan and threats against a blogger in China.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Is China hijacking Chennault’s legacy?

Claire Chennault poses in front of a P-40 aircraft
Some people, many with good intentions, are falling prey to Beijing’s propaganda drive, which involves the rehabilitation of staunch anti-communists 

J.V. “Jay” Vinyard, an 89-year-old former member of the “Flying Tigers,” and Nell Calloway, granddaughter of General Claire Chennault, who led the legendary air squadrons during World War II, are both laughing away. Sitting next to them on the sofa is an unlikely figure: The military-attired man, who is looking with amusement at a photograph, is General Liang Guanglie (梁光烈), minister of national defense for the People’s Republic of China. 

Why Liang, along with the other officers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who accompanied him at the meeting in Arlington, Virginia, earlier this month, does not belong there, and why Chennault would likely have bristled at their presence during the meet-up, is that they are representatives of a government that he fought to the end. For when he died in July 1958, Claire Chennault was anti-communist to the absolute core. 

My op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here, with excerpts from an interview I had with Chennault’s granddaughter, and lots more on Huawei’s role at a museum honoring the famous aviator in Louisiana.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The DPP’s self-defeating shenanigans

Protesters are surrounded by police on Ketagalan Blvd
The pan-green camp must abandon strategies that can only alienate the segments of the polity it will depend on if it is ever to run the Presidential Office again 

After nearly four years of rebuilding a party that in 2008 had been reduced to a pale shadow of itself, former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has good reason to worry about the direction the party seems to be taking since she stepped down. 

While Tsai, for various reasons, failed in her bid to unseat President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in the Jan. 14 election, she demonstrated her vision and maturity as party leader, a role she had assumed on May 20, 2008, the day Ma was first inaugurated. 

On that day, few people would have thought that the DPP, after suffering resounding defeats in the legislative and presidential elections, and hit by scandals surrounding former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), could, a mere four years later, again present a credible challenge to Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

Tsai accomplished just that, giving hope to many that the KMT would not go unchallenged in what are challenging times for Taiwan. All those accomplishments are being threatened now by a party leadership battle that appears to have lost all sense of purpose and direction ... This reflex action was taken to an extreme when DPP legislators announced they would seek to recall Ma with little more than a week left in his first term in office. 

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

‘Mystery’ UAVs seen on Type 054A vessel; 'Varyag' completes sixth sea trial

An unmanned helo hovers near the Type 054A Zhoushan
It’s difficult to tell from the pictures released so far, but the unmanned helicopters look suspiciously like the Austrian-made S-100 

The Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force released pictures on Tuesday of unspecified unmanned helicopters accompanying one of the three Chinese warships that crossed the Strait of Osumi on April 29 on their way to the Pacific Ocean.

After reaching the Pacific earlier this month, the Type 054A missile frigates Zhoushan (529) and Xuzhou (530) and the electronic reconnaissance and missile tracking ship Beijixing (851) launched exercises about 700km off Japan’s Okinotori. The JSDF yesterday announced that a P-3C surveillance aircraft had spotted the three vessels on May 14 as they crossed the strait on their way back to the East China Sea.

UAVs on the deck of the Type 054A
The pictures released by the JSDF, though blurry, have raised speculation that the unmanned helicopters may be Schiebel Camcopter S-100s, of Austrian origin. There are unconfirmed reports that the People’s Liberation Army placed a large order for them a while ago. With its VTOL capabilities, the S-100 is one of the few UAVs with the proven ability and weight to take off from surfaces at sea. Its first successful trial, on an Italian naval vessel, was announced in April this year.

The 110kg (empty weight) helicopter can carry an estimated 90kg payload, including a variety of electro-optical and infrared camera systems, with radar options also made available to customers recently. According to the manufacturer, the S-100 can operate for 6 hours and has an operational range of up to 180km. Foreign clients, including South Korea (where one crashed on May 11, killing one person), Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Libya, have acquired the platform, with the Pakistani navy expressing interest.

It remains to be seen, however, whether China acquired the S-100, given EU embargo. Another possibility is that the UAVs are S-100 derivatives or copies, which would not be altogether unusual for China. A number of civilian and military manufacturers in China have engaged in the development of UAVs in recent years. (The S-100 was showcased at the Fourth China International Exhibition on Police and Anti Terrorism Technology and Equipment Exhibition held in Beijing in April last year.)

Meanwhile, China’s first aircraft carrier, the refurbished Varyag, returned to Dalian on Tuesday after a nine-day sea trial. My article on the subject, published in the Taipei Times, on May 18, can be accessed here, and here in Jane’s Defence Weekly (subscription required).

China blocks Taiwanese SWAT team bid in Jordan

Taiwanese special forces parade on National Day last year
The PLA forced the organizer of the Annual Warrior Competition for special forces to cancel Taiwans entry, stating the 'one China' policy 

Despite President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “diplomatic truce” and the appearance of warming ties between Taipei and Beijing, China continues to use pressure to bar Taiwanese from participating in international events. 

According to the Chinese-language United Daily News, Taiwan’s team in the 4th Annual Warrior Competition was unable to participate in the event after China decided to register for the special forces competition held at the state-of-the-art King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) in Amman, Jordan, from May 2 through May 6. 

Event organizers have confirmed that the People’s Liberation Army team lodged a protest with KASOTC and compelled it to respect the “one China” policy, which barred Taiwan from taking part. Days before they were set to depart for Jordan, the Taiwanese team of eight army airborne officers was informed that their qualification for the event had been withdrawn. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lung Teh Shipbuilding wins bid for ‘Swift Sea’ prototype

A computer rendition of the corvette by MND
The firm has never built vessels for the military before. Expect delays during full production 

The Taiwanese navy announced today that Lung Teh Shipbuilding Co had won a bid on May 4 to build prototypes of a 450/500-tonne fast attack, radar-evading missile boat under the Hsun Hai (“Swift Sea”) program, with plans for completion by the end of 2014.

Lung Teh will start construction in six months and plans to complete the platform and weapons system in 30 months, with full construction by the end of 2014. This is the first military contract for Lung Teh, and the navy said it would send naval officials who were involved in the development of the Kuang Hua VI fast-attack boats to supervise the development.

As reported in late April, the legislature last year passed a NT$24.98 billion (US$853.4 million) budget to build between seven and 11 corvettes, which will be equipped with eight Hsiung Feng II (HF-2) and Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) anti-ship missiles.

Ching Chiang-class vessels outfitted with HF-3s

The Ching Chiang-class hulls 608 and 611 lie at anchor
Little by little, light craft in the Taiwanese navy are being given the means to wage asymmetrical warfare 

The military has begun modifying its fleet of domestically made Ching Chiang-class patrol boats by equipping them with Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) ramjet-powered supersonic anti-ship missiles to counter large surface ships in the Taiwan Strait. 

Developed by China Shipbuilding Corp — now known as CSBC Corp, Taiwan — in the 1990s, a total of 11 of the 500 tonne coastal patrol vessels entered service with the navy in 1999 and 2000. The ships were initially equipped with four HF-1 surface-to-surface missiles, one 40mm anti-aircraft gun and one 20mm gun. 

In May last year, the Ministry of National Defense unveiled plans to outfit the navy’s eight Cheng Kung-class frigates and a number of Ching Chiang-class vessels with the HF-3, Taiwan’s “aircraft carrier killer” cruise missile developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology. Modification work has begun on seven of the patrol boats, each of which is to be equipped with four HF-3 launchers, and that five Cheng Kung-class frigates had been outfitted with the missile so far as part of a NT$12 billion (US$406 million) program to arm the navy with 120 HF-3s.

HF-2 ASMs at Hetian Shan, Hualien
Although ministry sources have confirmed plans to deploy land-based HF-3s on the west and east coasts of Taiwan, the ministry denied reports last month that an extended range variant of the missile, currently at 300km, was under development. A longer-range HF-3 would allow Taiwan to deploy the missiles on the eastern coast and aim them at the Taiwan Strait while using mountainous geography, such as that found in Hualien, as cover from missile attacks by China, thus limiting exposure of the launchers.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

China increases marine surveillance capabilities

CMS ships lie at anchor
The China Marine Surveillance said last year that 36 new cutters would be launched over the next five years. Now all are to be commissioned by next year 

As regional tensions continue to grow over overlapping claims in the South and East China Seas, China’s premier civilian maritime agency announced last week it would commission more than three dozen new vessels by next year.

Quoting Chinese government officials, the state-affiliated China Daily reported that to safeguard China’s huge maritime interests, the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) would add 36 ships to its fleet by next year. An unnamed CMS official said that seven vessels would have a displacement of 1,500 tonnes, 15 of 1,000 tonnes and 14 of 600 tonnes. Construction of the 600-tonne cutters reportedly began on Tuesday in Weihai, Shandong Province. The vessels will be distributed to 14 provinces, autonomous regions and cities along the Chinese coastline, it said. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

China launches YG-14 optical satellite

The Yaogan 14 launches on a Long March 4B
China adds yet more eyes in the sky in China's seventh launch so far this year 

China launched the 14th of the Yaogan family of orbiters from the Taiyuan Space Centre in Shanxi province on 10 May, adding to a growing constellation of satellites that are believed to have military applications. 

Western analysts believe the Yaogan series consists of electro-optical synthetic aperture radars for use by the Chinese military. Reports claim that YG-14 may represent a new class of high-resolution optical observation satellite using sensors developed by the 508 Institute of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and the Changchun Institute of Optics. 

My article, published today in Jane's Defence Weekly, continues here (subscription required).

Friday, May 11, 2012

Getting even with a hardening China

US citizen Melissa Chan of Al-Jazeera 
Tit-for-tat is a language that Beijing understands. If such measures are not taken, Beijing will increasingly control the nature of the news we consume 

Ask just about any foreign correspondent who operates in China nowadays and you are bound to be told that the media environment there has recently gone from bad to worse. 

While unfettered journalism has never existed in modern China, the rules on what reporters could and could not write about became more permissive after Mao Zedong (毛澤東) passed away and more pragmatic leaders took over. The environment hardened again following the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, but since then reporters, foreign and local, have seen relative improvements. 

Despite those new freedoms, some areas remain perennially out of bounds, including coverage of large-scale civil unrest. Meanwhile, the government’s attitude toward reporting on human rights, corruption and environmental damage is haphazard, marked by occasional detentions, expulsions and, sometimes, surprising leniency. 

Until this week, the last foreign accredited journalist to have had his reporting rights denied by the Chinese authorities was Yukihisa Nakatsu of Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, who was expelled in October 1998 for allegedly having accessed “state secrets.” Now, with China facing a series of domestic controversies, the government appears to once again be tightening the screw on the media. On Monday, al-Jazeera was forced to close its bureau in Beijing after its chief correspondent, Melissa Chan, was denied a renewal of her press credentials and Chinese authorities refused to allow a replacement. 

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Taiwan monitors Chinese naval moves

The five PLAN vessels, as seen by a Japanese P-3C
Five PLA ships are conducting drills east of Taiwan, a show of force that is unlikely to go unnoticed in both Taiwan and the Philippines 

The Ministry of National Defense is paying close attention to ongoing maneuvers southeast of Taiwan by a fleet of Chinese navy vessels that includes one of the heaviest combat ships in the People’s Liberation Army Navy. 

According to Japanese media, the Japan Self-Defense Forces first spotted the group of five Chinese vessels 650km southwest of Okinawa on Sunday.

The five vessels from the Chinese navy’s South Sea Fleet — Type 052B destroyers Guangzhou and Wuhan; Type 054A frigates Yulin and Chaohu; and Type 071 landing platform dock (LPD) Kunlun Shan — left from Hainan Island and reportedly entered the Taiwan Strait before making a right turn about 180km off Taiwan. At 18,000 tonnes, the Kunlun Shan is one of the largest combat vessels in the Chinese navy. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Apache, Black Hawk helicopter sales moving ahead

An AH-64D Apache helicopter soars during an exercise
Little by little, Taiwan is quietly acquiring the defense items that were included in arms sales packages released by the US since 2008 

Two US companies have won contracts to produce utility and attack helicopters for the military, in separate bids that will run through the end of 2014. 

In a press release on Friday, Boeing Co said it had received a US$171.8 million firm-fixed-price contract to deliver AH-64D Apache Block III helicopters for the Taiwanese military. Although the announcement did not specify the number of helicopters, it comes after Longbow Limited Liability Co, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Northrop Grumman Corp, won a contract in January for 15 Block III Longbow Fire Control Radar (FCR) systems for Taiwan, which at the time was the first international client for the advanced target acquisition system. Given this, analysts conclude that the Boeing contract involves 15 airframes, out of the 30 included in the US$6.4 billion arms package announced by the US in October 2008. 

Taiwan has yet to place an order for the AGM-114L Hellfire missiles included in the package. Unless it does so, the Apache’s FCR capabilities will be essentially useless, a defense source has told the Taipei Times.

UH-60M utility helicopter
Meanwhile, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp announced it had received a US$43.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for engineering services to convert four UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters “to the specific unique configuration for Taiwan.”

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Abandon F-16s, seek F-35s, senior military officials say

A F-35 is pictured during a trial flight
Given how unlikely it is that the US will agree to sell F-35s to Taiwan, such calls should be regarded with suspicion and as a means to stall aircraft sales for years to come 

Senior military officers may be considering abandoning a long-stalled bid to procure F-16C/D aircraft from the US because of rising costs and could instead reserve budgets for an eventual F-35B bid, reports said yesterday. 

The Ministry of National Defense maintains that the air force remains committed to acquiring 66 F-16C/Ds, but the rising costs associated with the package — now estimated at US$10 billion, from an initial US$8 billion, according to local reports — added to the about US$3.7 billion it expects to pay for upgrades to the nation’s 145 F-16A/Bs, could be shifting the argument in favor of abandoning the bid for the new aircraft. 

US President Barack Obama’s administration notified Congress in September last year of a US$5.3 billion upgrade program for Taiwan’s F-16s. A Letter of Answer received from the US last week is believed to represent a trimmed down version of the original list, with associated costs estimated at US$3.7 billion, the sum the Executive Yuan says it is willing to pay for the program. 

In a report yesterday, the Chinese-language China Times said “senior military officers” believed Taiwan should abandon the F-16C/D bid, which has been stalled since 2006, and wait until it is possible for Taiwan to purchase the F-35B, a problem-plagued and increasingly expensive fifth-generation aircraft that is under development. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Taiwan faces difficult choices on F-16 deals

A US-made F-16 aircraft at sunrise
Rumors of hidden non-recurring costs and a budget crunch could force the Taiwanese government to choose between upgrades or new planes 

Questions emerged at the weekend as to whether Taiwan could afford both a multibillion-dollar upgrade program for its F-16A/B combat aircraft and new F-16C/Ds, amid claims that the price for the upgrade had been inflated since the deal was announced last year. 

The air force received a Letter of Answer from the US last week on the US$5.3 billion upgrade package for its 145 F-16A/Bs and is now reviewing the prices of the items on the list, Air Force Command Headquarters said yesterday. 

About one week before the letter was received, Washington said it would give “serious consideration” to long-stalled efforts by Taipei to acquire 66 F-16C/Ds. A notification to the US Congress in September last year approved the upgrade package, but did not include the new aircraft. 

The possibility that the US could agree to upgrade the F-16A/Bs and release the F-16C/Ds might now force the cash-strapped ministry to make a difficult choice. Since 2008, the US has agreed to about US$13 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, which has also embarked on a costly effort to adopt a fully professional military system by 2015. 

In an article published on Saturday, Defense News said the US Air Force had been pressuring Taiwan to pay for nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs related to the research, development, testing and integration of the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, a key component of the upgrade package. The article said those costs were not included in the September notification. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The blind leading the blind at CSIS

As the Canadian spy agency expands its reach and operations, more, not less, oversight is necessary. But this is not how the Harper government sees it   

Government belt-tightening in times of economic uncertainty is hard to argue against, and is in many cases justified. However, the budget implementation bill introduced on April 26 includes plans to scrap a body that, for the sake of all Canadians, ought to have been left alone. 

The office in question is the Inspector General of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), one of two watchdogs whose purpose is to ensure the civilian spy agency remains honest in its efforts to ensure Canadian security. For those who do not know better, shutting down the IG would appear to make sense, as two watchdogs (the other being the Security Intelligence Review Committee) mandated with inspecting the same agency might seem redundant.

But here’s the catch: With the about C$1 million in taxpayer money saved annually by dismantling the IG, the government will be burying what has for many years been the best intelligence watchdog by far. Of the two, the IG is the only one to have provided detailed reports critical of CSIS in recent years.

Maybe the government really needs to save that C$1 million dollar, even if it comes at the price for less accountability in intelligence matters. Maybe, but then, how do we account for Ottawa’s willingness to spend about $25 billion on the F-35, a fifth-generation multi-role combat aircraft whose viability is becoming as questionable as its utility for the Royal Canadian Air Force. 

The SIRC, for its part, has been without a chair for months. Equally problematic is the fact that the arms-length SIRC is physically located within the CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, and that some of its officers, or liaison officers, tend to be former employees at CSIS, which, for reasons that should be rather obvious, is problematic. Furthermore, SIRC has not intrusive powers as a watchdog and often relies on the good graces of the units it monitors to access the information it needs to scrutinize intelligence activity and ensure that operations do not unduly impact civil liberties. What this means, therefore, is that units being audited by SIRC haven no trouble withholding aspects of their activities that risk raising red flags. Without proper access, SIRC simply cannot be certain that it is being given full access to documents pertaining to investigations; in other words, there is no way for it to tell whether it is being denied some of the documentation it needs to conduct a thorough assessment. In other words, SIRC’s role is akin to a police officer asking a drug dealer if he’s an honest, law-abiding citizen, without the powers to search the suspect’s pockets. 

This move by the Conservative government occurs at a time when CSIS continues to expand the scope and reach of its activities, not only domestically, but abroad as well. (The annual budget when I left the Service in 2005 was C$278 million; six years later, it was C$506.6 million.) It also coincides with mounting apprehensions regarding its some morally questionable activities, such as the use of intelligence obtained through torture. And unless the situation has changed since I left the Service in 2005, the agency remains a gerontocracy, one in which promotions often are the result not of competence, but time served, a recipe for the cultivation of incompetence. At the same time, the median age of its intelligence officers at an all-time low. Officers with very little experience are being given increasingly sensitive responsibilities, often in a foreign context. This increases the likelihood that mistakes resulting from inexperience will be committed. 

It would be logical, as the Service enters a more proactive phase in its nearly 30-years of existence, for oversight bodies to be strengthened rather than dismembered. Unless, of course, Canadians — and those who would make Canada their home — are confident that the Harper government can be trusted with the future of this country.

I submitted this op-ed to the Ottawa Citizen, my usual home for articles on Canadian matters. However, Wesley Wark beat me to it by two days, and the editor would not run two articles on the same subject.

Friday, May 04, 2012

It’s make or break on the F-16s

Will Taiwan finally get the F-16C/Ds?
The door has been opened a crack. Let us see whether Ma, who has painted himself into a corner on this issue, will dare to walk in 

Last week’s surprise announcement by US President Barack Obama’s administration that it would give “serious consideration” to the possibility of selling F-16C/D combat aircraft to Taiwan was cause for cautious optimism. However, while it may be welcome in defense circles, the timing could give President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) a major headache as his inauguration day approaches.

Two administrations — that of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Ma’s — have since 2006 made repeated, yet unsuccessful, attempts to acquire 66 of the much-needed F-16C/Ds to bring back some balance in air power in the Taiwan Strait.

Through a bureaucratic sleight of hand, the White House, weary of complicating its relationship with Beijing, managed to avoid having to make a decision by pretending that Taipei had yet to submit a Letter of Request (LoR) for the aircraft. The reality is that officials in the administrations of both former US president George W. Bush and Obama made it impossible for Taiwan to submit an LoR. 

Now the context appears to have changed, and this puts Ma in a quandary, as political considerations at the top could add some friction. 

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Taiwanese shines in global initiative competition

Taiwan's Gary Chien, 4th from right, and his team
'When president Clinton announced us as the winner, he also mentioned our nationalities. I felt honored, as a Taiwanese, to be able to bring my country onto a global platform' 

When 19-year-old student Gary Chien (簡瑞廷) and four of his team members from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) signed up for the Hult Global Case Challenge, little did they know that their efforts would culminate in the presentation of an award by a former US president and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate — or that their proposal could improve the lives of countless people in Africa. 

The annual competition, hosted by the Hult Business School in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative and the Innovation, Excellence and Leadership Center, is described as the world’s largest crowd-sourcing platform for social good. Its goal is to challenge teams of students from around the world to submit solutions to achieve the social and economic development goals of top non-governmental organizations in the areas of energy, education and housing. 

Chien’s team, which included sophomores from India, China, Pakistan and an NYU alumnus from Canada, won the top award for their solution to provide solar lighting to 1 million households in Africa by next year. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Chinese navy vessels cross Japan's Strait of Osumi

The PLAN's Type 054A Zhoushan frigate (529)
Though legal under international law, the crossing was the first in nine years by Chinese vessels 

A Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) patrol aircraft spotted three Chinese warships on 29 April as they made a rare crossing through the Osumi strait off Kagoshima prefecture towards the Pacific Ocean, Japanese officials have confirmed.

The Type 054A missile frigates Zhoushan (529) and Xuzhou (530) and the electronic reconnaissance and missile tracking ship Beijixing (851) were seen 430 km west of the island of Yakushima in Kagoshima prefecture, the JMSDF said.

My article, published today in Jane's Defence Weekly, continues here (subscription required).

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

China developing EMALS-type catapults for aircraft carriers

An EMALS catapult test range in the United States
It could still be a long while before Chinese engineers master a technology that the US has been working on since the mid-1980s 

Chinese engineers are reportedly trying to develop an electromagnetic catapult system for China's future aircraft carriers, the People's Liberation Army Daily claimed in a 28 April report. 

General Ma Weiming (馬偉明), a professor at the PLA Naval University of Engineering, is said to have led the efforts to develop the system, which seeks to emulate the development of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) in the United States. 

Compared to existing steam catapult technology, an electromagnetic catapult is seen to offer improved efficiency, increased launch energy, lower through-life costs and improved end-speed control. Additionally, the scalability of the system is better suited for launching unmanned aerial vehicles. 

My article, published today in Jane's Defence Weekly, continues here (subscription required). What follows is background information not included in my JDW article:

General Ma Weiming
Aside from older carriers, like China’s refurbished ex-Varyag, which use ski jumps to launch aircraft, modern nuclear aircraft carriers use steam catapult technology to give naval aircraft the extra boost necessary to launch (push) from their decks. However, steam technology — which usually uses a piping system to collect steam from the ship’s nuclear reactor (heat is transmitted to a secondary loop via a heat exchanger)* — is very stressful on airframes and is maintenance intensive. 

EMALS catapults use a process similar to an electromagnetic rail gun to accelerate (pull) the shuttle that propels an aircraft on the deck, and allows for more gradual acceleration which reduces stress on the airframe. Given the amount of energy required to propel an aircraft from a deck within 3 seconds — enough to power 12,000 homes, according to Defense Industry Daily — carriers using electromagnetic propulsion require generators that can weigh as much as 80,000lbs. 

Provided the technology is developed in time, the US Navy’s CVN-21 Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, which are in the building stage, will use EMALS on their decks. The UK has also mulled the technology for its Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, in part to accommodate F-35C aircraft. The US-based General Atomics is spearheading the efforts. Among the advantages of EMALS catapults are their higher energy, which allow for launching of heavier naval aircraft on a deck. It is also said that EMALS make it easier to control the sequence of UAV launches.

Test launches using EMALS have already been successful with a variety of aircraft, with further compatibility testing scheduled for this year and reliability tests next year. System integration and certification expected in 2015, the same year the first CVN-21 hull, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is scheduled for commissioning. 

China reportedly has plans to build two conventional and two nuclear aircraft carriers by 2020. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that the conventionally powered ex-Varyag, which is expected to enter service in August, could eventually be retrofitted as a nuclear-powered carrier and outfitted with EMALS catapults.

*With thanks to James Holmes of the US Naval War College for explaining the principle behind this.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

‘Beidou’ coming together: No. 12, 13 orbiters launched

A Long March-3B rocket blasts off yesterday
With each new satellite added, China’s global positioning system is becoming more accurate 

A Long March-3B rocket blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang, Sichuan Province, yesterday, carrying two more satellites for China’s Beidou-2, or “Compass,” global positioning system.

The two orbiters, No. 12 and 13, joined a constellation of satellites that, by 2020, should comprise more than 30. Yesterday marked the first time China launched two satellites on a single rocket. In addition to global-positioning functionality for civilian use, the Beidou system will also provide the People’s Liberation Army with accurate imagery for use military use, including precision targeting for its cruise missiles and UAV navigation.

Strange things afoot at Taiwan Foundation for Democracy

Groups protest on Ketagalan Blvd ahead of Labor Day
Amid a legal case that risks damaging the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy’s image, new regulations also point to increased monitoring of employees 

The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) is facing criticism amid allegations of discrimination against a foreign employee and the implementation of internal security rules that allow monitoring of employees’ movement and Internet activity.

Bo Tedards
At the heart of the criticism is the case of Bo Tedards, who was removed from his duties as director of the foundation’s International Cooperation Department and reassigned as a researcher after returning from eight months of parental leave in January last year.

TFD director Huang Teh-fu (黃德福), who had informed Tedards of his demotion — which came with a NT$10,000 reduction in salary — denied the reassignment had anything to do with Tedards’ parental leave and launched an administrative appeal with the Council of Labor Affairs. After the council turned down the appeal on Jan. 20, Huang initiated legal action at the Taipei District Court against the city government. Since early last year, the foundation has also implemented a series of new regulations to keep tabs on its employees. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Special forces receive new light combat vehicle

The Special Combat and Assault Vehicle (SC-09A)
The domestically produced SC-09A has been introduced with the SFC's 871 Airborne Group 

The Ministry of National Defense has begun delivering a new indigenous light combat vehicle to be used by special forces for off-road combat operations. 

The unarmored, 1,225kg four-wheel-drive Special Combat and Assault Vehicle (SC-09A) was locally manufactured, with an initial contract for 56 vehicles, Defense News reported yesterday, adding that a ministry source would not reveal the identity of the manufacturer. 

The 871 Airborne Group under Special Forces Command is the first unit to receive the three-seat vehicle, which comes with -puncture-proof wheels, an anti-blast fuel tank, night-vision equipment and a searchlight, the article said. The vehicle has right passenger and rear gun mounts that can be fitted with MK-19 40mm grenade launchers and T-74 machine guns, Defense News said, adding that a third gun rack, which can accommodate three T-91 assault rifles, was located in the rear compartment. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.