Taiwan unveils ‘suicide’ drone at arms expo as Taipei expands military spending

Lawrence Chung

Taiwan unveiled the latest weaponry from its arms industry on Thursday, including a new subsonic jet trainer aircraft and a drone that its designers say can lock on to radar signals and destroy ground stations or missile launchers in a “suicide” attack.

The Jian Hsiang, or Flying Sword, drone was one of 81 items of locally made military equipment to make their debut at the three-day Taipei Aerospace and Defence Technology Exhibition.

Taipei has increased its defence spending in the face of a growing military threat from Beijing and has called on the United States to sell it more arms.

Last month, the US State Department approved the sale of an arms package worth US$2.2 billion that included 108 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger shoulder-launched missiles to Taiwan. Beijing – which considers the island to be a wayward province to be returned to the mainland’s fold, by force if necessary – has said it will sanction the US companies involved.

Addressing the expo, Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan and the US’ top representative on the self-ruled island, said Washington expected Taipei to continue with defence spending increases.

“These investments by Taiwan are commendable, as is Taiwan’s ongoing commitment to increase the defence budget annually to ensure that its spending is sufficient to provide for its own self-defence needs,” he said. “And we anticipate that these figures will continue to grow commensurate with the threats Taiwan faces.”

Chi Li-pin, aerospace director of the National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, the development arm of Taiwan’s armaments bureau, refused to give details of the Jian Hsang’s range or loiter phase – the time the drone can spend over a target. But he said it could reach the mainland and Beijing’s Russian-built S-400 missile systems, should any cross-strait conflict break out.

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“Rather than holding a separate high-explosive warhead, the drone itself is the main munition once it finds its target and sets off its self-destruction,” he said.

Chi said the prototype of the drone – which is also known as a “loitering munition” – was completed and a six-year programme to build them for Taiwan’s air force was expected to begin soon.

He declined to reveal the budget for the drones, but earlier this year, Taipei approved the thawing of a frozen budget of NT$80 billion (US$2.6 billion) related to the Jian Hsang project.

Taiwan unveiled the latest version of the Teng Yun surveillance drone at the Taipei Aerospace and Defence Technology Exhibition. Photo: EPA-EFE

The expo also introduced big-ticket equipment such as the Cloud Leopard M2 armoured personnel carrier; the latest version of the Teng Yun medium-altitude, long-endurance surveillance drone; a scale model of Taiwan’s yet-to-be-named advanced jet trainer; the Tien-Kung III surface-to-air missile; and the Hsiung Feng III sea and mobile-launched supersonic missile.

Taiwanese government records showed the latest version of the Teng Yun was developed in 2015 and budgeted by the military at NT$3.45 billion between 2018 and 2021.

The trainer was expected to go into production by the end of September and the first plane was expected to join the air force by June 2020, the institute said.

The air force budgeted NT$68.6 billion for 66 trainers by 2026, records showed.

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