A new US-Taiwan Business Council report recommends that the US sell Taiwan the 66 advanced F-16C/D fighters it has requested.
“The fighter gap, if not bridged in a timely manner, could permanently solidify the already tilting cross-strait air power balance in favor of China,” says the report, titled Balance of Air Power in the Taiwan Strait.
“Such a state of military imbalance would then undermine deterrence, and could expose Taiwan to political extortion backed by military intimidation,” it says.
The report was released at a seminar held in a US Senate meeting room with council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers moderating and presentations by Fu Mei, director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center and Richard Fisher, senior fellow, Asian Military Affairs, International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“It is imperative to deal quickly with the growing cross-strait fighter imbalance so that deliveries to Taiwan may begin by 2014,” the report says.
That is the year Taiwan’s F-5s are scheduled for retirement, leaving the Air Force dramatically short of fighters. The F-16 production line could also close without an additional order before next year.
“In the event of a conflict with China, a modernized and capable Taiwan air force could play a critical and constructive role in supporting the United States. It would be easy to presume that China’s vast resources, and its commitment towards expanding the capabilities of its military, would render the situation hopeless for Taiwan,” the report says.
“This report concludes that Taiwan has both the resources and the wherewithal to mount a sufficient self-defense in response to the evolving threat represented by PRC [People’s Republic of China] military modernization,” it says.
An economically and militarily strong Taiwan — able to engage China with confidence — is in the best position to act as a force for stability in the Taiwan Strait, The report says.
“It is not too late for Taiwan,” the report says.
Asked how “realistic” it was to expect the US to sell F-16s to Taiwan, Hammond-Chambers said: “There are going to be pockets of support and pockets of opposition, based on the interests of those in the decision-making chain.”
“Will [US President Barack Obama’s administration] consider another round of arms sales to Taiwan in the next year? I absolutely believe that they will. Absolutely. Because it is in the interests of the United States. Because peace and security in the Taiwan Strait is in the interests of the United States. We have a legacy relationship with Taiwan that has broad regional implications,” he said.
“To back off Taiwan isn’t just to reduce our support for Taiwan, it is to send a message to the Japanese and the South Koreans and Singaporeans and the Aussies and others that we are changing our security role in the region in the face of Chinese opposition. That is going to increasingly factor in consideration of Taiwanese arms sales,” he said.
Fisher said that if the F-16 sale does not go through, the US will be inviting “unforeseen, very negative, consequences” from China.
“There’s always been a battle in Washington about taking the right course on Taiwan,” he added. “I have taken part in some of these battles for close to 30 years. It’s quite clear that Taiwan does not gain any ground that is not fought for.”