Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The F-104 "Starfighter" As Nuclear Bomber?

This was the sixth image returned by a google search for "F-104 Starfighter with centerline pylon". Although this particular aircraft has U.S. Air Force markings, it was in fact used as a research vehicle by NASA.
Today is finally sunny again, I feel fine and the municipal environmental department sent a team with a diesel generator and pump to finally drain the pools of stagnant water in the park behind my house (though not before Wanwan bathed himself in the dirty water again this morning, necessitating another wash in the shower).

Yesterday however, I saw two odd things at "Thinking Taiwan". The first was a reference to an extraordinary claim that Chiang Ching-kuo may have considered detonating a nuke over Taiwan as a means of collective suicide (which I do not believe), and second, that in the period of the late '70s to early '80s, Taiwan's military had no means of delivering a nuclear weapon. I will leave the first claim aside because until evidence is presented to support it, I think it can and should be dismissed. Yet the second claim is more interesting.

Without an inventory of R.O.C military assets at the time, it is difficult to check the claim properly, though I suspect it's probably true for example that Taiwan had no specialized bomber aircraft (as these would have had to have been purchased from the U.S. and would not have been characterized as "defensive" in nature). Yet the R.O.C Air Force did possess a large number of F-104 Starfighters, an aircraft which was originally designed as an air superiority fighter, but which was later adapted to both the interceptor and fighter-bomber functions. The shell of one of these aircraft is on display at Nanhua reservoir here in Tainan. Although the F-104 had a limited combat range, I believe it would have been technically possible to configure it to carry an atomic weapon from a centerline pylon, in the same manner as what is shown in the image above. Would such an aircraft have been capable of carrying out a nuclear bombing mission for the R.O.C Air Force? Well it might depend on how far away the targets were in China and whether the pilot was to have any hope of returning to base or not. The aircraft's limited combat range may have meant either that such missions would be limited to targets in the south-east of the country, or that, were the targets significantly further north, the missions would have likely been suicidal for the pilots.

Where does that leave the claim that Taiwan had no means of delivering nuclear warheads? On a strict reading, it would seem to be false. Only if other assumptions are built in to the delivery requirements (such as targets being in northern China, and pilots being able to survive), does it look defensible.

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