Taipei Defense Expo Takes Flight

Amid rising geopolitical tensions, representatives from industry and governments at the biggest defense expo Taiwan has ever seen showcased a robust portfolio of advanced weapon systems to bolster Taiwan’s aerospace and defense capabilities.

Last month’s Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE) provided an opportunity for Taiwan to show off its military capability, as well as for prominent multinational suppliers in the sector to reaffirm their commitment to the Taiwan market.  

After a four-year hiatus because of the Covid pandemic, the normally biennial TADTE opened at the Nangang Exhibition Center on September 14. The exhibition’s return marked the 16th edition of the show and the largest such event thus far, featuring around 280 exhibitors at 970 booths and company representatives from 10 different countries, according to organizer Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA). 

This year’s TADTE featured an impressive display by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), highlighting advanced weapon systems and providing in-depth information on the development of Taiwan’s armed forces.  

MND aimed to showcase the armed forces’ combat readiness, reinforce self-defense awareness among the Taiwanese people, and boost citizens’ confidence in the nation’s military, Major General Lee Chien-ching of the Armaments Bureau said at a pre-show news conference. While the first two days of the expo were open only to professional buyers and media guests, attendees from the general public were welcome on the third and final day.  

The MND pavilion displayed 54 items covering joint combat equipment, dual-use technology, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and simulators. It also featured displays by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as the defense ministry’s Armament Bureau and the state-owned National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST).  

In a demonstration of U.S. support for Taiwan, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Sandra Oudkirk took part in the opening ceremony, where she congratulated the organizers on the record-setting participation rate.  

“The strong turnout reflects the rapid development and growth of Taiwan’s aerospace and defense industry, as well as the growing international attention to trade and investment opportunities in the Taiwan market,” Oudkirk said in her opening remarks. 

The U.S. presence was also at an all-time high at this year’s TADTE. Oudkirk noted that the USA pavilion, a first-time effort by AIT, reflected the two sides’ “long and robust history of partnership in the aerospace and defense sectors.”  

The American Institute in Taiwan contributed a USA Pavilion to the defense expo for the first time.

The USA Pavilion featured some of the most prominent names in the industry, including BAE Systems, L3Harris Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. In addition to these multinationals, most of which have an active presence in Taiwan, 41 small to medium-sized companies also exhibited at the pavilion. 

Scott Roberts, corporate vice president of L3Harris Southeast Asia and Taiwan, says this year’s show was “the best show that Taiwan has had – ever.” TADTE presents an opportunity for industry and government entities to forge closer relationships and build awareness, he notes.   

“It’s a combination of networking, marketing, and exhibiting new capabilities, all in one venue,” says Roberts. “To us, it’s a good way to create engagement across the board – not just with customers and all parts of the armed forces here in Taiwan, but also with people internationally.” 

L3Harris last year moved its regional headquarters from Singapore to Taiwan in order to increase engagement with the Taiwan market and government, as well as to express its appreciation for Taiwan’s contributions to the industry over the years.   

“We’ve been investing in Taiwan for a long time through our supply chain,” says Roberts, adding that TSMC is just one example of the many important partners in the country. “Since 2011 and beyond, we’ve put US$10 million to $20 million per year into Taiwan. We’re also growing our business and staffing here, and our strategic partnerships are growing as well.”  

These partnerships include engagement in organizations such as AmCham Taiwan and institutions like NCSIST, which is active in developing, manufacturing, and sustaining various weapons systems and dual-use technologies. 

The relocation of L3Harris’ regional office has been met with significant appreciation from Taiwan and paved the way for more robust relationships, says Roberts. “It’s farther for me to fly to reach my other customers in southeast Asia, but it’s an inconvenience well worth it.” 

Unconflicted commitment 

Unsurprisingly, the trade show elicited reaction from China. On TADTE’s second day, Beijing announced it would impose sanctions against two U.S. defense giants – Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman – for providing weapons to Taiwan. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in a press briefing that Lockheed Martin’s branch in Missouri was the prime contractor directly involved in an arms sale to Taiwan announced on August 24. She added that Northrop Grumman has repeatedly participated in the sale of weapons to Taiwan. 

“We urge the U.S. side to effectively abide by the one-China principle…cease U.S.-Taiwan military liaison, and stop arming Taiwan, or else it will be subject to a resolute and forceful retaliation by the Chinese side,” said Mao. 

China has imposed sanctions on U.S. companies over selling weapons to Taiwan on several occasions in the past. However, considering that neither Lockheed Martin nor Northrop Grumman sell to China, it’s unclear what the latest sanctions are intended to achieve. 

Northrop Grumman’s Corporate Vice President Stephen O’Bryan and Taiwan Country Lead Executive Fisher Huang at this year’s TADTE.

Undeterred, Northrop Grumman announced at TADTE that it sees up to US$100 million in business opportunities in Taiwan in the coming years. The company opened its Taipei office in August and has appointed Fisher Huang as the country lead executive for Taiwan.  

Before joining Northrop Grumman, Huang worked for U.S. aircraft engine and avionics manufacturer Honeywell Aerospace in Taiwan. He is also a former deputy Air Force program manager at AIT and served in the Republic of China Air Force for 21 years in various capacities, including a three-year posting to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington, D.C.  

Stephen O’Bryan, corporate vice president and global business development officer at Northrop Grumman, notes that the pandemic has exposed global supply chain weaknesses in all industries, including the defense sector. In response, Northrop Grumman is seeking to develop new capacity together with suitable partners and sees Taiwan as a “logical place” to invest in. While emphasizing that the company never really left Taiwan, O’Bryan says the new Taipei office under Huang’s leadership will enable further and closer collaboration. 

“We want Taiwan industry to join our whole supply chain,” says O’Bryan. “That means Fisher will work with Taiwanese companies to find out what their capabilities are and work with our U.S. team to put our needs together and find new solutions.”  

Northrop Grumman has previously delivered four E-2T and two E-2K Hawkeyes – airborne early warning aircraft – to Taiwan. The company also produces an integrated battle command system (IBCS), a command and control system that helps protect from air raids and missile attacks, and co-produces munitions in Taiwan.   

Huang notes the importance of involving local industries and collaborating on production and sustainment. “What makes the most sense is to have Taiwanese companies that are involved in manufacturing and understand the systems,” he says. “Later, we will work with them to sustain it and boost capabilities.” 

Scott Roberts of L3Harris praises the expo as a “way to create engagement across the board.”

Engaging with various industries to provide innovative solutions has long been a strategy of Northrop Grumman. Earlier this year, the company announced a collaborative agreement with Space Forge, a UK startup that plans to manufacture semiconductors in orbit. Northrop will provide technical and business advice, collaborate on design and testing, and offer training on microelectronics development through the agreement. Huang indicates that partnerships like this one could also be established in Taiwan.  

“Taiwan has a very strong industrial base,” says Huang. “We all know that Taiwan’s semiconductor industry is highly capable, for example. We should use those capabilities to solve issues together.”  

O’Bryan adds that Northrop Grumman also sees more opportunities for increased defense interoperability between Taiwan and the United States. Operating the same equipment would enable further collaboration and information-sharing, he says, quoting the IBCS as a prime example.  

“This is just the beginning for us,” says O’Bryan. “The more you partner with somebody, the more the industry grows. Once you become part of the fabric of the local industry, you naturally start working on more projects. That is the long-term vision, to create something cumulative rather than transactional and build stronger partnerships.” 

These planned industry investments are backed up by the determination of both the United States and Taiwan to boost Taiwan’s resilience. Just in August, the Biden administration approved a US$500 million arms sale to Taiwan on the same day as President Tsai Ing-wen renewed a pledge to strengthen Taiwan’s self-defense. Nearly US$19 billion in military items that have been approved for sale by the United States are still expected to be delivered to Taiwan.  

“Support for Taiwan in the United States is at an all-time high,” says O’Bryan. He adds that this sentiment aligns with Northrop’s commitment to fostering more extensive collaboration between the United States and Taiwan – a point he is not shy to make. “We are unconflicted in Taiwan.”