As China showed off its new J-10 fighter planes this week, Taiwan supporters in the US Congress began pressing the White House once again to sell advanced F-16s to Taipei.
Texas Republican Representative Kay Granger inserted “remarks” into the Congressional Record urging US President Barack Obama to “immediately move ahead with the sale of F-16s to Taiwan.”
And Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe was preparing to introduce a new resolution in the US Senate supporting F-16 sales to Taiwan.
Granger, whose district is home to the Lockheed Martin plant where the F-16s are built, said: “One of the main reasons to move now is that the production of the F-16s is nearing its end as more countries are switching to the advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”
If Obama agrees to sell the requested 66 advanced F-16C/Ds to Taiwan, it will save about 1,400 Texan jobs.
The potential sale was the subject of new interest among US military circles following an event in Tianjin, China, on Tuesday when the media and more than 50 military attaches from embassies in Beijing were invited to a 15-minute demonstration of the domestically developed J-10.
It was the first time that a foreign audience had been shown the plane — also known as Annihilator 10 — in action.
Four jets from the 24th Fighter Division of the Chinese Air Force flew impressive aerial acrobatics in diamond formation with their wingtips less than 5m apart during multiple rolls and spins.
The London Times said that the J-10 is believed to be “loosely based on the early-generation F-16.”
“Israel helped at the start with aspects of avionics and aerodynamics until it was warned off by Washington,” it said.
If the US does sell advanced F-16s to Taiwan, they would face J-10s in the case of a military conflict with China.
The International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC) said China is selling the J-10 to Pakistan and other countries for about US$40 million each — roughly half the cost of an F-16.
Richard Fisher, a military expert with the IASC in Washington, has published a paper entitled The Air Balance on the Taiwan Strait in which he says that even if the F-16 sale to Taiwan is approved, “its deterrent effect may be temporary.”
By the time the F-16s were delivered, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force may have about 150 J-10s in service and a more capable variant called the J-10B in development, he said.
“Soon the J-10 could have a capability approaching that of the advanced F-16s Taiwan now is seeking,” Fisher wrote.