The US will further evaluate whether to upgrade Taiwan’s existing F-16A/B fighters or sell the country new F-16C/D fighters to help it maintain a viable air defense, a senior US Air Force official said on Thursday.
Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs Bruce Lemkin acknowledged that Taiwan’s air defense capability would continue to decline in the coming years because of the aging of its F-16A/B fleet and problems with maintaining its Indigenous Defense Fighters.
Further assessment as to how the situation could be improved is needed, whether by upgrading the existing F-16A/B fleet or by selling Taiwan new F-16C/D aircraft, Lemkin said.
He said that air defense capability is not solely judged by the availability of fighters, adding that surveillance radar being deployed by Taiwan would greatly enhance its air defense.
Meanwhile, Lemkin said, the export of F-35 fighters is one option available to the US in seeking to upgrade the combat edge of its allies or “allies in a broader sense.”
The official, however, declined to say if Taiwan has sought to procure F-35 fighters from the US.
Lemkin made the comments in response to questions from reporters after attending a hearing on “China’s Emergent Military Aerospace and Commercial Aviation Capabilities” held by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Taiwan has repeatedly asked the US government to approve the sale of 66 F-16C/Ds to replace its obsolete F-5E/F fighters. To date, Washington has neither accepted nor rejected the request.
With the fighter’s production lines likely to be closed in 2013 and Taiwan’s air defense capability continuing to decline, members of the US Congress and the Washington-based US-Taiwan Business Council have recently been urging the administration of US President Barack Obama to move more quickly on the requested sale.