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Taiwan displays upgraded fighter jets with 'smart' munitions

Indigenous Defence Fighter jets (IDF) fly during a combat skills demonstration at a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Indigenous Defence Fighter jets (IDF) fly during a combat skills demonstration at a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
An Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) flies during a combat skills demonstration at a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
An Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) flies during a combat skills demonstration at a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
An Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) flies during a combat skills demonstration at a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
An Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) flies during a combat skills demonstration at a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) are displayed during a combat skills demonstration at a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) are displayed during a combat skills demonstration at a military base in Tainan, southern Taiwan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou gestures as he sits in a Taiwan Air Force Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) jet with an upgraded weapon system during a ceremony at an air base in Tainan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou gestures as he sits in a Taiwan Air Force Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) jet with an upgraded weapon system during a ceremony at an air base in Tainan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou stands in a car as he inspects an air base with Air Force Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) jets nearby during a ceremony to mark the upgrade of the IDF's weapon system in Tainan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou stands in a car as he inspects an air base with Air Force Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) jets nearby during a ceremony to mark the upgrade of the IDF's weapon system in Tainan, on Jan 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan on Thursday unveiled a fleet of upgraded fighter jets built domestically, with President Ma Ying-jeou hailing the rapid modernisation of the island's forces despite warming ties with China.

A dozen Indigenous Defence Fighters (IDFs) with advanced combat capabilities were displayed at a ceremony at a military base in the southern city of Tainan.

The IDFs are capable of carrying "smart" bombs developed under a project codenamed "Wan Chien" (Ten Thousand Swords) and are equipped with superior flight control systems, officials said.

"The bomb is as good as the US weapon of its kind," said Mr Ma, who presided over the ceremony and later raised a toast at the base to laud the island's defence modernisation efforts. The island began developing its own smart weapons after the United States - Taiwan's main arms supplier - refused to sell them guided bombs.

"With the new bombs, we could launch the weapons from a long distance away from the enemy targets and reduce the risks of having to fly over the mainland," air force official lieutenant colonel Huang Kuan-cheng told reporters.

Taiwan launched an upgrade programme two years ago to boost the combat capabilities of its 127 IDFs, named Ching Kuo after a former president.

A total of 71 IDFs have completed the first phase of the upgrade project, while the remaining will be upgraded by early 2017, the defence ministry said.

Ties between Taiwan and its giant neighbour have improved significantly since the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang government took power in Taipei in 2008.

Mr Ma was re-elected in January 2012.

However, China still considers the island part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, prompting Taipei to seek more advanced defence weaponry mainly from the United States.