Taiwan Won’t Give Up On New U.S. Jets
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Taiwan will continue pushing the U.S. to release 66 F-16C/D fighters despite the generous upgrade package released last week for the air force’s remaining 146 F-16A/Bs. The $5.8 billion A/B upgrade includes advanced radar, bombs and missiles, training and upgrades to its avionics and electronic warfare suite.
Despite the impressive “retrofit” package, the release does not replace or add new fighters to Taiwan’s inventory, which now stands at 370 fighters. Taiwan military officials claim they need new F-16C/D fighters to replace 42 F-5 Tigers and 56 Mirage 2000-5 fighters, both scheduled for retirement in the next five to 10 years, respectively. Taiwan’s fighter fleet will then be reduced to 272 fighters (146 F-16A/B and 126 F-CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighters).
The decision not to release F-16C/Ds did not please members of the U.S. Congress who supported the sale as an effort to create jobs and local tax revenue. Florida and Texas would have benefited the most from the sale.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, criticized the Obama administration for appeasing China: “It’s disheartening to see so many of my colleagues who supported this deal wither in the face of political pressure and stand with a White House that worries more about irritating our biggest creditor than supporting our key allies.” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the upgrade was a “modest step in the right direction but woefully insufficient to meet Taiwan’s increasingly urgent requirements for modern combat fighters and other defensive weapons systems.” Ros-Lehtinen accused the White House of placating China.
“This deal has Beijing’s fingerprints all over it,” she said. Michael Mazza, a national security specialist on China and Taiwan at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed.
“At this point, there is no question that Beijing exercises undue influence over the White House on Taiwan matters,” he said. Attempts to please China could backfire for regional security, he said. “A well-armed Taiwan that can defend itself is a Taiwan that contributes to cross-Strait stability. A Taiwan that cannot adequately defend itself is a Taiwan that invites Chinese coercion, if not aggression — this is destabilizing and directly contrary to U.S. interests.”
The reduction, despite the F-16A/B upgrade package, will complicate Taiwan’s ability to withstand a growing Chinese fighter arsenal. According to the recent 2011 annual Pentagon report to the U.S. Congress on China’s military, China bases 490 combat aircraft within operational range of Taiwan. “Newer and more advanced aircraft make up a growing percentage of the inventory,” it said.
In January, China flight-tested the next-generation stealth fighter prototype, the J-20, and is upgrading its H-6 bomber fleet to carry a new long-range cruise missile. Taiwan will also have to deal with China’s new aircraft carrier, which will be equipped with the new J-15 carrierborne fighter.
The decision not to release F-16C/Ds has shaken the confidence of Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), which was optimistic the U.S. would release the fighters, said York Chen, a former member of Taiwan’s National Security Council, now with the Institute for Taiwan Defense and Strategic Studies. The government is beginning to “realize that the good old days” of the first term of President George W. Bush was an “exception.” In 2001, the Bush administration released a major arms package to Taiwan that included submarines, destroyers and maritime patrol aircraft.
Despite criticism and concern over Taiwan’s future, the F-16A/B upgrade is impressive. MND officials said the upgrade “would be equal to 80 percent of those of the F-16C/Ds” and that “some items selected in the retrofit program have better performance than those of current U.S. Air Force F-16C/Ds.” The package includes the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation System and the ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System.
Northrop Grumman’s Scalable Agile Beam Radar and the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar will bid for the AESA competition. The U.S. also released for the first time the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM): GBU-31, GBU-38 and the GBU-54. The U.S. denied previous Taiwan requests for JDAM. Also released was the new AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
Taiwan will also receive an engineering and design study on replacing the existing F-100-PW-220E engines with F-100-PW-229. Taiwan air force officials have long complained the 220 engines were underpowered.
The A/B package also included a $500 million F-16 training program at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., which is a continuation of a program begun during the 1990s for Taiwan’s 21st Tactical Fighter Squadron (“the Gamblers”) based in Arizona.
The F-16A/B retrofit will be handled by the state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation, which built the IDF.