September 3, 2011:
Taiwan has revealed that it is developing clones of the U.S. Predator and X-47B UAVs. Taiwan is cut off from most major foreign arms suppliers. Even the United States is sometimes intimidated by Chinese pressure. As a result, Taiwan is developing and building more and more of the high-tech weapons it cannot easily obtain abroad. Taiwan is one of the most industrialized nations on the planet, and can manufacture just about any modern weapon.
The Predator design is not particularly difficult, although the flight control software and numerous tweaks made as the result of several hundred thousand flight hours is something the Taiwanese may be quietly negotiating for. The Chinese can’t interrupt the transfer of something they don’t know about.
The X-47B is another matter, and the Taiwanese may be able to trade tech for this one. It was earlier this year that the U.S. Navy X-47B UCAV (unmanned combat air vehicle) made its first flight. It was only three years ago that the navy rolled out the 15 ton X-47B. This pilotless aircraft has a wingspan of 20 meters (62 feet, whose outer 5 meter/15 foot portions fold up to save space on the carrier). It carries a two ton payload and will be able to stay in the air for twelve hours. The U.S. is far ahead of other nations in UCAV development, and this is energizing activity in Russia, Europe and China to develop similar aircraft. Even tiny Taiwan is in now, but Taiwan has the technical capabilities, and self-preservation motivation, to move faster than anyone else. If Taiwan began demonstrating a jet powered UCAV similar to the X-47B, but with better thought out and more reliable capabilities, Taiwan would have something valuable to trade, something so valuable that Chinese threats would be drowned out.