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Taiwan upgrades fighter jets
by Staff Writers
Taipei (AFP) June 26, 2011

Taiwan will this week receive its first batch of a fleet of Indigenous Defensive Fighters upgraded as part as part of a $587 million dollar project to beef up air defences, officials said Sunday.

An unspecified number of the domestically-manufactured jets are scheduled to be delivered in central Taichung city Thursday, an air force spokesman said.

The defence ministry is spending Tw$17 billion (US$587 million) upgrading 71 IDFs, or nearly half of the fleet based in the southern Tainan air base, as part of a four-year project which began in 2009.

"The rest of IDFs may or may not be upgraded, contingent upon our future budget," the spokesman told AFP.

The retro-fitted jet will be armed with four locally made air-to-air missiles, up from two, and ground attack bombs and missiles, experts say, adding that its radar, electronic fighting system and mission computer have also been enhanced.

The air force had been reluctant to give the green light to the project, first presented by the island's sole aircraft-maker Aerospace Industrial Development Corp in the early 2000s, experts said.

But Taiwan fast-tracked the upgrade in 2008 after the United States refused to sell the island F16C/D jets or upgrade its F16A/Bs.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou, the architect warming ties with Beijing over the past three years, renewed his call on the United States to sell F-16C/Ds while meeting visiting Paul Wolfowitz, a former US deputy secretary of defence, in Taipei Saturday.

The United States last year approved $6.4 billion in weapons for Taiwan, including Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters. But the package did not include fighter jets, which Taiwan believes are necessary to close the gap as China rapidly boosts its military budget.

China angrily protested the package, temporarily cutting defence ties with the United States. Beijing considers Taiwan -- where the mainland's defeated nationalists fled in 1949 -- to be a territory awaiting reunification.

earlier related report
Taiwan seeks remains of pilots killed in China
Taipei (AFP) June 26, 2011 - Taiwan is seeking the return of the remains of dozens of airmen shot down while carrying out US-sponsored secretive missions over the Chinese mainland during the Cold War, officials said Sunday.

"Any possible measures will be evaluated so that the remains of those people who died for the country will be returned and honoured here as soon as possible," Taiwan defence ministry spokesman David Lo told AFP.

"At the moment, the most feasible way is to commission scholars and conduct fact-finding trips to the mainland," he said, in yet another sign of the fast-warming ties between the two former bitter rivals.

The Kuomintang government fled to Taiwan after its troops were defeated by the Chinese communist forces led by Mao Zedong at the end of a civil war in 1949.

During the 1950s-70s, Taiwan's airforce set up two special units under the assistance of the US Central Intelligence Agency to spy on rival China -- the 34th and 35th squadrons, both based at the northern Hsinchu airbase.

The 34th squadron, better known as the "Black Bat" squadron as their missions were always conducted at night, flew over the Chinese mainland at ultra-low altitude to duck the radars of the People's Liberation Army.

Local newspapers said 14 of the squadron's US-made P-2V and B-17 aircraft were shot down or crashed during more than 10 years ending in 1967, killing 148 crew.

They said the squadron had even flown to Xinqiang and taken photographs of China's nuclear test sites, which stunned the United States.

Newspapers said four Taiwanese pilots affiliated to the 35th squadron, or "Black Cat" squadron, lost their lives while flying U2 planes to the mainland from 1961 to 74.

The U2 spy plane is a legendary reconnaissance aircraft capable of cruising at an altitude of 70,000 feet (21,000 metres).

Two other Black Cat pilots were brought down and taken prisoner and kept incarcerated for 20 years.

Military analysts say Taiwan secured a large amount of aid it badly needed from the United States by sharing the hard-won Chinese military information.

Tensions have eased between Taipei and Beijing since Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008, pledging to beef up trade and allowing in more Chinese tourists.

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Taiwan lifts historic ban on Chinese solo tourists
Taipei (AFP) June 22, 2011
Taiwan on Wednesday lifted a decades-old ban on travel to the island by individual Chinese tourists, saying visitors would act as "peace ambassadors" for the former arch foe. The first batch of independent mainland tourists, from Beijing, Shanghai and the city of Xiamen on the southeast coast, were expected to arrive next Tuesday, local media reported. Travel between the island and mainl ... read more

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