If F-16 Deal Rejected, Taiwan May Build Jets
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — If the U.S. rejects Taiwan’s request for new F-16 fighter jets, it will not leave Taipei without options. Local defense analysts and officials say Taiwan could build its own fighters without U.S. government approval.
The state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) has produced two prototypes of the new F-CK-1C/D Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF). AIDC spent roughly $230 million from 2001 to 2007 under the Hsiang Sheng (Soaring Upgrade) program to develop a new fighter based on the IDF A/Bs built during the 1990s.
Since October 2006, the C/Ds have completed 400 flight tests. The fighters are outfitted with two conformal fuel tanks that enhance combat radius and endurance, a digital glass cockpit, and an enhanced Golden Dragon 53 multimode radar, based on the Lockheed Martin AN/APG-67 radar.
The C/Ds can carry 771 kilograms more fuel and payload than the A/Bs. AIDC strengthened the structure of the landing gear and incorporated a digital anti-skid system to prevent accidents during takeoff and landing, an AIDC official said.
The C/D doubles the load of Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword) air-to-air missiles to four, and modifications allow it to carry the new Tien Chien-2A anti-radiation missile and the Wan Chien (Ten Thousand Swords) cluster bomb, both in development by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology.
Taiwan’s Air Force initially rejected the C/D option in favor of pushing for new F-16s. However, AIDC was able to persuade the service in 2009 to go forward with a midlife upgrade package for 71 of the 126 IDF A/Bs. Minus conformal fuel tanks, the upgraded IDFs include many of the same improvements of the C/D variant. The first six upgraded IDF A/Bs were handed over to the Air Force on June 30.
An AIDC official said upgrades for the remaining 55 IDF A/Bs and fullrate production of the C/Ds might be approved if the U.S. fails to release the F-16s.
Taiwan and its supporters in Washington are raising pressure on the White House to release 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters and a midlife upgrade package for Taiwan’s remaining 146 F-16A/B Block 20 fighters.
The entire package could be worth $13 billion and 16,000 U.S. jobs. With Lockheed Martin cutting 1,500 employees due to the economy, pressure is mounting on the White House to ignore Chinese threats and move forward on the deal. China has successfully blocked the F-16C/D and A/B midlife upgrade sale since 2006 and 2009, respectively.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is threatening to block the confirmation of William Burns as deputy secretary of state unless the White House approves the deal. And a group of Taiwan legislators is visiting Washington this week to push the C/D release, but some members have suggested the release of the F-16A/B midlife upgrade would be satisfactory if the proposed C/D sale encounters more problems. Production of the F-16, built by Lockheed, will end in 2013.