Finally, the aircraft also has a larger data bus, reportedly capable of handling 1,000 times more data, allowing 260 times more throughput than the original production F-16A/B.
All of these elements combine to make the F-16C/D Block 60 a substantially more capable aircraft, a culmination of the six major block changes the aircraft has undergone since its inception in the late 1970s.
In some ways, it represents an “F-35 Lite,” insofar as it incorporates a variety of subsystems (AESA radar, IFTS) found on the F-35.
However, even at the Block 60 level, the F-16C/D is not a direct competitor to the stealthy F-35. However, it is a “more advanced” fighter than the F-16A/B.
Finally, there is the political and physical reality that the US will not sell Taiwan the F-35 until, at the earliest, it has equipped its own squadrons and those of its consortium partners, as well as previously confirmed customers.
This means that Taiwan would have to wait behind not only the US Air Force, but also the UK’s Royal Air Force as well as the air forces of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Israel and Singapore.
This suggests that, at the earliest, Taiwan could not hope to purchase the F-35 before 2025, with deliveries likely sometime beyond that point. By then, the F-5s will have long ago disappeared, along with Taiwan’s Mirage 2000-5s and Ching-kuo.
The US administration and Congress should focus on its stated goal of closing Taiwan’s fighter gap. Fulfilling Taiwan’s long-standing request for F-16C/Ds would do that.
They should proceed with haste.
Dean Cheng is research fellow in Chinese Political and Security Affairs in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.