Taiwan plans to build an advanced jet fighter that would be superior to the U.S.-supplied plane it currently deploys, according to a senior official here.
Chang King-yuh, director general of the government information office in Taiwan, said in an interview this week that Taiwan hoped to begin production of the new fighter by the early 1990s.
Chang acknowledged that to build such a sophisticated fighter would be "very costly." The official did not provide a dollar estimate of the cost, but indications are it would run into the billions.
Chang said Taiwan "probably would prefer" to purchase an advanced plane rather than produce its own. But for several years Taiwan sought unsuccessfully to buy an advanced replacement from the United States for the U.S.-supplied F5E fighter. The Reagan administration rejected a request for such a replacement in January 1982, based on an assessment by U.S. government experts that Taiwan did not need such a plane for its defense.
Taiwan currently possesses more than 200 F5E fighters, which are considered superior to any fighter in mainland China's Air Force. Taiwan's pilots are regarded as superior to those on the mainland. But China is attempting to modernize its Air Force and has long held a major advantage over Taiwan in numbers of fighters and bombers. The mainland's jet fighters are outdated and most are modeled after Soviet MiGs of the 1950s and 1960s.
Taiwan's military leaders regard superiority in the air as the key to deterring any possible attack from the mainland, where planes are stationed only minutes from potential targets on Taiwan.
Taiwan has some experience in building military planes. It produces its own trainer aircraft. Taiwan also has been manufacturing the F5E here under a coproduction contract.
In addition to building a new fighter plane, Chang King-yuh said, Taiwan needs improved air-to-air missiles and antisubmarine equipment. He said Taiwan has only a few submarines used for training, compared with more than 100 deployed by the mainland Chinese.
"The principal purpose of obtaining more advanced weapons is to deter military adventures by the Chinese Communists and to preserve the general peace, in the Taiwan Straits and the western Pacific area," said Chang. "Weakness probably would induce adventures.
"We are still faced by an enemy that makes no secret that it would like to take us over," said Chang.