report by: Thierry Letellier
As of the late 1990s, the longest runway at Hsinchu was reportedly 12,000 feet long. After opening the Sungshan, Shuinan, Chiayi, Tainan, Pingtung, Fengnien, Hualien, Makung, and Kinmen military airports for civil aviation, MND also opened the Hsinchu military airport from 01 January 1998. MND also ordered the Air Force to reduce air traffic of military aircrafts to facilitate operation of civilian airplanes. Taiwan obtained an initial batch of of American F-104 Starfighters in 1960-61, and eventually received over 200 of these aircraft, all of which were withdrawn from service in the early 1990s. The Starfighters were operated by the 2nd/499th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hsinchu, the 3rd/427th TFW at Ching Chuan Kang AB, and the 5th/401st Tactical Combined Wing at Taoyuan.
France announced in 1992 that it would offer Dassault Mirage 2000-5 fighters to Taiwan. The number of aircraft considered had been rumored to be 120, but the deal was finalized as 60 aircraft (48 single-seat 2000-5Ei and 12 two-seat 2000-5Di) on November 17 of the same year. This marks the first ROCAF purchase of French fighters since the arrival 24 Dewoitine D.510C piston-engine monoplanes in 1937. The program was given the codename “Fei Lung” (Flying Dragon). ROCAF also obtained 960 MICA medium-range and 480 Magic II short-range air-to-air missiles from Matra. The former provides the Mirage with the BVR capability needed for its role as front-line interceptor. A number of centerline twin gun pods with DEFA 554 cannons were also acquired and fitted on the two-seaters, as they do not have an internal gun armament. Other support equipment, such as auxiliary fuel tanks, helmets, and G-suits, have also been procured.
The first batch of ROCAF Mirage 2000-5, consisting of five aircraft, arrived at Hualien Harbor on the east coast of Taiwan by sea on May 6, 1997. After being unloaded, they were towed to Hualien AB, where they were unpacked and checked, and then flown to Hsinchu AB. Subsequent deliveries also followed the same procedure. The last ROCAF Mirage 2000-5 was delivered in an official ceremony on November 26, 1998. All Mirage 2000-5 are operated by the 499th TFW at Hsinchu. The first unit to conver to the type, the 41st TFS, was commissioned on December 1, 1997. Subsequently the 42nd TFS was commissioned on November 26, 1998. The 499th TFW achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) status on May 10, 2001, and the 48th TFS was commissioned on the same day. On November 1, 2004, the 41st and 42nd TFS were upgraded to the TFG status while the 48th TFS became the 48th Training Group, in the largest restructure undertaken by ROCAF since 1999. At the same time, the original 11th TFG went into history. Each of the new TFG/TG is commanded by a Colonel, but the number of aircraft assigned is not much different from that for a Squadron. Although their official English designation is Tactical Fighter Group, the Chinese designation literally means Operations Group.
On May 8, 1998, a two-seat Di fired one MICA missile and successfully hit a target drone 67 km away. It was the first launch of the said missile outside France. The second MICA live-firing exercise took place off the east coast of Taiwan on March 29, 2000, in which 2051 fired a single MICA missile from its left inner pylon. On July 21, 2004, two Mirage 2000-5 from the 2nd TFW landed on the wartime reserve runway located at the Jenteh section of Highway No. 1 as part of the annual Han Kuang No. 20 Exercise. Mirage 2000-5Di 2051, piloted by Maj. Wei-Kuang Chang and Lt. Col. Juei-Chi Duan, and 2054, piloted by Lt. Col. Bin-Fu Wu and Capt. Jien-Liang Chen, took off from their home base Hsinchu Air Base at 0540 hrs. 2051 landed on the highway at 0620 hrs, followed by 2054 at 0622 hrs. The two jets then taxied to the other end of the reserve runway to be refueled and re-armed with two Magic Air-to-air missiles, respectively. At 0712 hrs, 2051 took off again and 2054 followed one minute later. Both landed at Hsinchu at 0736 hrs.
The Taiwan Air Force has asked National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology to help extend the lifespan of the MICA missiles installed on its Mirage 2000 fighters Deputy National Defense Minister Lee Hsi-ming at the Legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee. The institute is capable of doing so, he was quoted as saying by various local media Monday. However, upgrading the aircraft locally is not on anvil despite the Mirage 2000 plane having completed half its lifespan and France quoting an ‘exorbitant’ price to upgrade the plane. Lee has acknowledged that the delivery of parts and materials needed for the maintenance of Mirage fighters and the price are indeed higher than two other types of aircraft, those are indigenous defense fighters (IDFs) and F-16 fighters. But in case of Mirage, the Air Force has been able to maintain the jet at an adequate level as required by the Ministry of National Defense, he said. Taiwan has been taking deliveries of Mirage fighters since 19 years.
“Mirage fighter jets have superb performance,” he said. He added that the Air Force is making efforts to maintain their performance. He dismissed the report of The Apple daily which stated that there are worries that if parts and components of the fighters become unavailable, and the Air Force could decommission them before the scheduled time. The Apple Daily reported that a fighter jet is generally designed to be used for 30 years, but 15 years after it rolls out of a plant, it will have to be upgraded to maintain its performance and to ensure flight safety, If there is no upgrade, the lifespan is about 20 years, it added. Taiwan had ordered 60 Mirage 2000-5: 48 Mirage 2000-EI and 12 double-seated Mirage 2000-5DI. Currently, 47 Mirage 2000-5EI and 10 Mirage 2000-DI is still in service.
This trade marked the so far last order of advanced fighter jets. It is planned that Mirage 2000 will be slowly phased out mainly due to high maintenance costs. According to US-Taiwan Business Council’s report: “Based on FY2010 budget figures, the O&M cost per flight hour for the Mirage 2000-5 was approximately US$26,670 (NT$784,630), compared with US$5,340 (NT$157,100) for the F-16A/B Block 20 and US$8,340 (NT$245,360) for the F-CK-1A/B Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF).” Thus, Mirage 2000 alone consume app. 60% of Taiwan Air Forces’ fighter jet budget. Globlairpower had the great chance to spend 2 days around this unique Mirage-2000 Airbase; event if the weather gave us some problems, it was very good to have been there.