Sat, Jan 15, 2011 - Page 1 News List

US has decided on new arms sale to Taiwan: media

GREEN LIGHT:The report said that the nation’s request for F-16C/Ds was still being considered, but a package to upgrade the existing fleet has already been secured

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  Staff Reporter, with CNA

Lieutenant colonel Chung Kun-chang stands in front of an F-16 fighter plane on Dec. 9 last year.

PHOTO: LIU HSIN-DE, TAIPEI TIMES

US-based media reported on Thursday that the US government had privately decided to sell a new arms package to Taiwan, but was keeping it under wraps until after an official delegation by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) visits next week.

Quoting unnamed senior US government officials, the Washington Times said the package would include new upgrades for Taiwan’s aging arsenal of US-made F-16A/Bs and it is expected to trigger fresh outrage from Beijing.

In Taiwan, the Ministry of National Defense and the Air Force would neither confirm nor deny the information, with officials saying they had yet to learn of the content of the reports.

In recent years, Taiwan has made repeated requests for purchases of F-16C/D aircraft from the US, saying the fighters were necessary to ensure balance in the Taiwan Strait following reports of China’s development and testing of fourth and fifth-generation fighter aircraft, including the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter.

The prototype plane — China’s first radar-eluding stealth fighter, seen as match for the US’ F-22 — reportedly made its first test flight on Wednesday. Experts said that when operational, the fighter would likely overwhelm Taiwanese defense capabilities.

The Washington Times reported that while Taiwan’s request for F-16C/Ds was still being considered, the upgrade package, which would provide the existing fleet with new electronics, engines and missiles, had already been secured.

Other elements of the arms package could include new radar, possibly the advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array system and AIM-9X air-to-air missiles, the report said.

Time is running short for the new F-16 request. US lawmakers who support their inclusion have said that F-16 production lines are expected to close soon, possibly later this year, and are unlikely to be reopened.

The news comes at a sensitive time for US-China relations, with Hu expected to meet US President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday. Beijing cut military exchanges after a previous arms deal last year and imposed sanctions on US firms involved in the deal.

One of the aims of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ three-day visit to Beijing earlier this week was to reactivate military exchanges between the US and China.

At a joint press conference on Monday, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie (梁光烈) said the US should halt future arms sales to Taiwan, as they “jeopardized China’s core interests.”

Reports said Gates later told reporters he did not believe the US’ arms sales policy toward Taiwan would change anytime soon.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), a member of the legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, said that based on recent meetings with US government officials, the upgrade package for the F-16s could materialize “soon,” adding that the deal was likelier to materialize than the sale of new F-16C/Ds.

Under the US’ Taiwan Relations Act, the US is obliged to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, although sales of major hardware, including fighter aircraft, have become less frequent in recent years.

Most of Taiwan’s arsenal of Air Force fighters other than the F-16A/Bs could be retired by 2025, with F-5E/Fs scheduled to be decommissioned between 2014 and 2017.

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