Taiwan’s Ching-kuo Upgrade Complete, SEAD Role Next

 - March 20, 2018, 4:25 AM
An F-CK-1C with GPS pod taxis at Ching Chung Kang Air Base for a test flight. (Photo: Formosa Military Image Press)

The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) has completed the decade-long upgrade of the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) F-CK-1 Ching-kuo, also sometimes referred to as the Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF).

Known as the “Hsiang Zhan” program, the upgrade was carried out in two phases, the first of which was undertaken between 2009 and 2014 involving 71 IDFs from the 443rd Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW). Phase II subsequently covered 56 fighters from the 427th TFW, with the AIDC handing over the last aircraft to the ROCAF on Dec. 21, 2017. The end of Phase II was marked with a commissioning ceremony at Ching Chung Kang Air Base on March 9.

The original F-CK-1A/Bs have been upgraded to the C/D standard, with glass cockpit and three-color head-up display, new 32-bit flight control computer, Golden Dragon CD-53 multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar, and certification to launch the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) Wan-Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) stand-off missile. The aircraft also have two additional hardpoints for the Tien Chien II (TC-2, Sky Sword 2) medium-range air-to-air missile. The ROCAF revealed that its next step is to integrate the anti-radiation version of the Tien Chien II, known as the TC-2A, and to make the IDF a dedicated SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) platform, akin to the USAF’s F-16C “Wild Weasels.”

These upgrades aim to put the 25-year old IDF on par with the growing fleet of fourth-generation mainland Chinese fighters such as the J-10 and J-16, although the Chinese fighters remain far superior in terms of systems, weaponry, and endurance. However, the Wan-Chien will enable the ROCAF to engage People's Liberation Army targets and ships from a range of 124 miles (200 km), without entering the Chinese air defense bubble.

Modernizing the Ching-kuo fleet is part of the ROCAF's drive to update its capabilities. Also underway is a major F-16 upgrade program. The first four upgraded F-16A/Bs are believed to be retrofitted and awaiting first flight. Last week, Taiwanese defense minister Yen Teh-fa revealed that his ministry has requested the Lockheed Martin F-35 and Boeing KC-135 tankers, although many are skeptical of this bearing fruit. Interestingly, a Taiwanese publication reported the possibility of the U.S. government leasing surplus F-15C/D Eagles as a compromise counteroffer to Taiwan.