Taiwan is buying high-tech US fighter-jet pods to keep a closer eye on China’s navy

Taiwan air force F-16 fighter jet
A US-made F-16V fighter takes off during a military exercise in southern Taiwan, January 15, 2020.

  • Taiwan will buy six MS-110 reconnaissance pods as well as training and related equipment with an eye toward better surveillance of the PLA.
  • The US State Department says the sale boosts Taiwan’s capacity to “meet current and future threats by providing timely intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Taiwan has signed a NT$9.63 billion (US$343 million) deal with the United States to buy six reconnaissance pods and related equipment to allow its air force to greatly increase surveillance over the Chinese navy’s coastal activities as the island shores up its defences against the threat from Beijing.

The deal, revealed by the island’s defence ministry on Wednesday through a government bidding website, was signed by the ministry’s mission stationed in the US and the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents US interests in the absence of formal relations.

According to the contract made public by the ministry, the deal was struck on July 7. The MS-110 reconnaissance pods would be delivered to Hualien in eastern Taiwan where the air force bases its F-16 fighter jet squadron, the contract said.

The MS-110 is a multispectral pod fitted to an aircraft to capture images and intelligence at long range.

In its report to the legislature in September, the air force said it sought to buy the pods from the US to fit its F-16 jets at a proposed cost of NT$9.81 billion for delivery between 2022 and 2029.

The island’s air force has 142 F-16 fighter jets. It has ordered 66 more advanced F-16V “Viper” jets from the US and opened a regional maintenance and repair centre for the warplanes.

Taiwan air force F-16
A Taiwan Air Force F-16V, left, at the Chiayi air base in southern Taiwan, January 15, 2020.

Taiwanese media said the poor quality photos of the Chinese battle group Liaoning’s passage in the Taiwan Strait – taken by the island’s military in April last year – prompted the defence ministry to buy the pods.

The deal – which includes six MS-110 pods, three transportable ground stations, one fixed ground station, spare and repair parts, system and logistics support, personnel training and training equipment – was approved by the US State Department in October.

According to US supplier Collins Aerospace, a unit of Raytheon Technologies Corp, MS-110 allows day and nighttime, wide-area and long-range imagery coverage.

The pod is compatible with advanced fighters – including F-16, F-15 and F/A-19 jets – and can capture high-resolution imagery at long range or stand-off range during both peacetime cross-border surveillance and wartime scenarios, Collins said on its website, adding that it could detect targets with a high degree of confidence and through poor weather.

In October, the State Department said the sale would help improve Taiwan’s capacity to “meet current and future threats by providing timely intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities for its security and defence”.

It also said the enhanced capability was a deterrent to regional threats and would help strengthen the island’s self-defence.

A Taiwan Air Force F-16 fighter jet lands on a closed section of highway
A Taiwan Air Force F-16 lands on a highway during an exercise.

On Tuesday, Beijing-based CCTV also released a video of a military exercise simulating an invasion of a Taiwan-like territory featuring nighttime amphibious landings and shelling.

Beijing has warned the US – which switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979 – against selling arms to Taiwan or rallying its allies, including Japan and Australia, to support the island.

To tone down the confrontation between Washington and Beijing, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said during his visit to Singapore on Tuesday that the US did not seek confrontation.

“I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army.”

But he also said the US would stay focused on helping Taiwan.

“No one wants to see a unilateral change to the status quo with respect to Taiwan, and again, we are committed to supporting Taiwan and its capability to defend itself,” Austin said.

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