Taiwan Still Pushing for F-16s
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - The Oct. 4 letter sent by seven retired U.S. Air Force officials urging F-16 sales to Taiwan says the more advanced C/D version of the fighter is vital for Taiwan to defend itself and restore balance in the Taiwan Strait.
The letter was addressed to Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Armed Services Committee; and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., of the Foreign Relations Committee. They introduced the Taiwan Airpower Modernization Act (TAMA) on Sept. 12. It was signed by retired generals David Deptula, Michael Dunn, John Loh, William Looney, Lester Lyles and Lloyd Newton, and former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.
In 2008, Wynne was forced to resign as secretary by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates after the Air Force mistakenly sent nuclear weapon fuses to Taiwan instead of helicopter batteries.
"It is our assessment that the sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan will significantly help to restore the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait, increase stability in the region, and decrease the likelihood that the United States will one day have to intervene in a military action between China and Taiwan," said the letter.
TAMA is an effort to force the Obama administration to adhere to "obligations" under the Taiwan Relations Act "to provide Taiwan with the military equipment it needs to maintain its self-defense capabilities," said a news release issued by the two senators.
The letter is part of an ongoing effort by Taiwan and the Washington-based U.S.-Taiwan Business Council to push for the release of new F-16s.
"The letter expressed firm conviction that the sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan is in the security interests of Taiwan and the United States alike, and their assessment that the sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan will significantly help to restore the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait and increase stability in Asia," said a news release issued by Rupert Hammond-Chambers, Council president.
The U.S. government released a $5.8 billion upgrade package for 146 F-16A/B fighter aircraft on Sept. 21 that included a wide array of new systems previously denied by the U.S., including an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, Joint Direct Attack Munitions and an option for new engines. The F-16A/Bs were procured during the 1990s.
In response to the decision to release only the F-16A/B upgrade package and not the C/Ds, Taiwan's Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu told a legislative committee on Sept. 28 that the Air Force would go forward with a $530 million upgrade of the remaining 56 F-CK-A/B Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) in the 2013-2017 timeframe. Taiwan's state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) has so far upgraded 71 IDFs with new mission computers and radar systems, but previous budgeting issues prevented a total upgrade of all aircraft.
Taiwan had expected the U.S. to release the F-16C/D fighter and had budgeted $8 billion to cover costs, but now those funds will now allow for continued upgrades of the remaining IDFs.
The Air Force is also looking at the procurement of 50 jet training aircraft to replace aging AT-3 Tzu Chiang jet trainers built by AIDC during the 1980s. Kao said Taiwan could build their own trainers or procure them from overseas. Taiwan Air Force officials have met with officials at Korea Aerospace Industries to discuss possible procurement of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic jet trainer.