Taiwan Official Suggests F-35 As Future Alternative
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - In response to news the U.S. has decided to decline Taiwan's request for new F-16C/D fighter aircraft, Andrew Yang, Taiwan's deputy minister of defense for policy, said the air force would consider the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in future discussions with the U.S.
Taiwan has requested 66 F-16C/D fighter aircraft and a mid-life upgrade (MLU) package for 146 older F-16A/B fighters. However, due to pressure from China, the U.S. had declined Taiwan's request for new C/Ds. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency is expected to release the Congressional notification this week for the A/B MLU.
The specter of declining U.S. support for Taiwan's defense needs has rattled the Ministry of National Defense, which has become reliant on U.S. arms exports as others, such as Europe and Israel, have sided with China to curry economic and political advantages.
Yang's comments were made at the sidelines of the US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference in Richmond, Virginia, on Sept. 18, and generated a flurry of media reports and speculation about Taiwan's interest in the F-35. "He spoke in the context of if the US refuses to sell C/Ds then the debate moves on to F-35s. It doesn't go away," said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president, US-Taiwan Business Council and sponsor of the conference.
Yang was one of three keynote speakers at the 2011 conference, including Peter Lavoy, Acting Assistant Secretary for Asian & Pacific Security Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, and Paul Wolfowitz, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2001-2005 and chairman of the US-Taiwan Business Council.
Over the past ten years, Taiwan has expressed interest in both the vertical/short take-off and/or landing (V/STOL) AV-8B Harrier jump jet and the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter to cope with the anticipated destruction of conventional runways by China's arsenal of 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles.
Taiwan submitted a letter of intent (LOI) for a briefing on future price and availability (P&A) data for the F-35 in May 2002. In the LOI, obtained by Defense News, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) requested P&A data for 120 F-35B STOVL aircraft. TECRO is Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington, D.C.
The letter said China's air breathing and theater missile capability threatens Taiwan's ability to maintain air superiority. "The primary purpose of this acquisition is to provide a credible response capability in the event that our air bases become non-functional due to initial air, missile, and special operations force attack," the LOI said.
A Taiwan defense industry source said the MND modified its requirement in 2004 with a bolder request for 60 F-35B STOVL and 150 F-35A conventional take-off and landing aircraft.
A former Taiwan air force official confirmed the 2002 request. "The difficult part will be the budget, qualified people and the political situation," he said. "Taiwan's air force cannot solve these problems by themselves, so I really doubt … they can make it."
The decline of the F-16C/D is one of three high-profile weapon systems Taiwan has failed to secure from the U.S. over the past decade, including Aegis-equipped Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and diesel-electric attack submarines.