Lawmakers are expected to review a NT$250 billion (US$8.06 billion) special budget for the procurement of 66 F-16V jets this legislative session, which began on Tuesday. Since the government’s choice of model was made public, blatant disinformation has been spread in apparent attempts to portray the government in a negative light. It is the responsibility of the media to report the facts, so such disinformation can be overcome.
First, the government is often accused of having overpaid for the fleet, by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Fai (費鴻泰) and others. This is utterly untrue. The most up-to-date data, obtained by Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) last month, showed that the package Taiwan secured puts the unit price of each unarmed F-16V at US$121 million, while Bahrain, Bulgaria and Slovakia paid averaged US$149 million per plane.
Second, the F-16Vs are said to be outdated. The model, which made its first flight in October 2015, sits between fourth and fifth-generation fighters. China’s most advanced fighters are fifth-generation, which means Taiwan would trail it by just half a generation. The F-16V boasts upgrades from the F-16A/Bs that the nation has been using, including a new active electronically scanned array radar based on technology used in the F-22 and F-35, a top-of-the-line electronic warfare system and a greater weapons capacity. It also features an improved cockpit and an automated ground collision avoidance system.
An article in the National Interest magazine in November last year said that the F-16V “is expected to generate strong sales over the coming years.”
Perhaps the most important factor behind the choice of F-16Vs over the more advanced F-35s was delivery dates. Lockheed Martin’s schedules put the delivery date for the first batch of F-16Vs in 2023, while the nation would have to wait until at least 2030 if it had opted for F-35s.
With Republic of China Air Force pilots already trained and experienced in flying F-16s, the F-16Vs would allow for a seamless transition. In addition, the similar systems means costs would not skyrocket, as they would by a need to upgrade to maintain F-35s, which rely on an entirely different system.
Given its desperate need to replace its aging, high-maintenance Mirage 2000s, the Ministry of National Defense’s choice of F-16Vs, which have lower maintenance costs than F-35s, F-18s and F-15s, fit the nation’s needs without putting a strain on defense spending.
Given the nature of incidents involving Taiwanese and Chinese warplanes, with the former shadowing the latter without engaging in a full-on long or short-range battle, the decision to switch from procuring F-35s to F-16Vs likely came after practical considerations.
That is not to say that the nation should not seek to acquire the F-35s or other fifth-generation planes, such as the proposed F15X, to prepare for more advanced aerial battles.
The F-16V procurement package is not nearly as bad as some people have made it out to be. It might only be a mid-term solution, but in terms of ensuring the nation’s security in the near future, the government has definitely made the correct decision.
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