US defense industry delegates on Taiwan visit, aiming for eventual military interoperability

Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: AFP

Dozens of delegates from the US Defense industry, led by former US Marine Corps commanding general Steven R. Rudder, are currently on a visit to Taiwan, seeking to explore further cooperation opportunities between the US and Taiwanese defense industries.

At the 2023 US-Taiwan Defense Industry Forum held today (May 3, 2023), co-organized by the US-Taiwan Business Council, Rudder expressed the need to include smaller companies into the defense supply chain, noting that smaller defense players have proven to be as effective as their larger counterparts during the war in Ukraine. The need to include smaller players was also echoed by Rupert Hammond-Chambers, President of the US-Taiwan Business Council, who also highlighted trust as a key foundation on which to enhance the defense industry cooperation on both sides.

The retired Marine Corps general also mentioned the buildup of interoperability between US and Taiwanese armed forces as a direction of US-Taiwan defense industry cooperation, pointing to the need to operate under the same command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system to develop a common operational picture.

Leading Taiwanese drone and fighter jet manufacturers call for joint R&D

At the forum, Dr. Max Lo, the chairman of GEOSAT Aerospace and Technology, mentioned several advantages of developing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), including the relative ease to mass-produce them locally compared to traditional weapons. GEOSAT previously focused on developing satellite positioning, geospatial information, and telemetry technologies, but has become a main player in Taiwan's commercial drone industry since a strategic shift in 2008.

The GEOSAT chairman also called for the broadening of US-Taiwan drone industry cooperation in several dimensions, such as joint R&D in new sensors, expanded training for operation and maintenance, and joint AI-based development. He also called for more US technology transfers to Taiwan as well as boosting Taiwan's local drone production capacity. "Unmanned aircraft system development is likely the quickest and the most efficient means of achieving resilience," according to Lo.

Moudy Hu, the chairman of Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), Taiwan's largest defense prime contractor specializing in aeronautics, suggested those eager to participate in Taiwan's defense supply chain to develop in accordance to the country's defense industrial policy, as that is where the budget lies.

Hu indicated that AIDC has recently inaugurated an F-16 maintenance center in Taiwan in partnership with Lockheed Martin, with the latter providing technology transfers and verification. The center now seeks to be a F-16 service hub in the region. Localized maintenance, according to Hu, is especially important as the total servicing time for some components could take up to 2–3 years.

AIDC is currently working on a supersonic advanced jet trainer, known as T5 Brave Eagle, to accumulate the necessary know-how for independently developing a next-generation fighter in the future, and volume production is expected this year. According to Hu, AIDC has independently developed 55% of the technologies required by the jet trainer, including airframe design, assembly, and flight control system, while some core technologies have to be imported. For the next-gen fighter project, Hu sees potential US-Taiwan cooperation opportunities in fields such as engine, avionics, flight control and environmental control systems.

Citing the success story of Japan's early R&D investment in the aerospace industry that allowed it to become a tier 1 supplier of Boeing, Hu mentioned AIDC's plan to become Boeing's tier 2 supplier. Finally, he also mentioned AIDC's ambition in the space sector, especially low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite industry, and drone manufacturing.

Upfront communication and readily avaliable business plans key to successful cooperation

Meanwhile, Robert Moss, senior director of APAC sales & business development at Teledyne FLIR Defense, a leader in thermal imaging infrared cameras, suggested Taiwanese suppliers working with US defense contractors to clearly communicate their needs, citing previous partnership experience with AIDC.

AIDC specifically requested Teledyne FLIR to put a certain product in its aircraft, according to Moss, and such upfront communication can be replicated in other similar partnerships. Especially as some US defense contractors might not know the requirements on the ground when working with partnering countries, successful cooperation often requires local partners to come forward with business plans ready, according to Moss, citing a previous case when Teledyne FLIR agreed to supply certain components to a local partner at the latter's request, allowing it to domestically produce a certain system that Teledyne FLIR also supplies.

However, acknowledging the issues of US export controls on certain technologies, Moss also stressed the need to work around restrictions in such cases, noting there has to be a way to achieve a goal without certain specific items under US restrictions.

Lt. General Steve Rudder, former commanding general of USMC Forces, Pacific. Credit: DIGITIMES

Lt. General Steven Rudder, former commanding general of USMC Forces, Pacific. Credit: DIGITIMES