Taiwan has unveiled its new fleet of aircraft, many of which are designed to combat drones from China, which has complained that its defensive actions in the self-ruled island’s air space are not matched by the democratically-elected government.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force has made no secret of its unease with the dual-use capabilities of the new aircraft, whose big guns are billed as being capable of shooting down stealth fighters such as the F-35.
Twelve F-35C stealth fighters, designed to evade detection by missiles and surveillance drones, have been sent to Taiwan, and Beijing has threatened a military response if the island lays down arms to the United States and continues its defence upgrade programme.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, and only around 1,000 troops of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force currently reside on the island.
In a 10-year plan unveiled on Friday, Taiwan expects to have 100 stealth fighter jets, including 90 F-35s, plus four squadrons of Sukhoi fighters, 42 Apache helicopters and its first fleet of maritime patrol aircraft by 2023.
Many of Taiwan’s new aircraft are part of the Taiwanese Air Force’s modernisation, but the government did not specify which of them were designed specifically to tackle drones from China, which has sent drones to support smaller nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines in their territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“The F-35C and other platforms … are intended for all domains and are designed to fight and to defeat multipurpose and unmanned aircraft,” Defence Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.
In a statement on Friday, China’s air force spokesman Shen Jinke took aim at the extent of Taiwan’s aircraft upgrade.
“The modernisation of Taiwan’s air force will inevitably affect the interests of our country, and if they do not stop it could lead to Taiwan’s collapse,” Shen said.
Taiwan is strongly backed by the United States and Taipei has refused to concede to Beijing’s demand that it formally identify itself as a part of China, rather than a sovereign nation.
Since the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, the number of US military personnel on the island has risen sharply, and its naval and air forces now outnumber their Chinese counterparts.
Both the US and Taiwan say they must do more to defend themselves against any military threat from China.
After a US diplomat told Taiwan in February that the US continued to support the island’s defence, China’s air force flew 18 fighter jets through Taiwan’s air defence identification zone in mid-April. Taiwan said the move was an open challenge to the island’s sovereignty.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office also criticised earlier this year a visit by the United States military representative to Taiwan to meet military officials.