The Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday denied reports that Taiwan’s latest bid to purchase new F-16 aircraft was turned down by the US Department of State on Friday.
In an article on Monday, Defense News reported that the State Department had turned down a request by the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington to submit a new official letter of request (LOR) to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) for the 66 F-16C/Ds, which Taiwan has sought to purchase for years.
The article said the State Department had blocked the request on behalf of the US National Security Council.
A US source independently confirmed to the Taipei Times yesterday that the request was turned down.
This would be the fourth failed attempt to submit an LOR for the F-16s and the first by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration. The first three bids were made between June 2006 and February 2007 under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Citing an unnamed US defense source, Defense News described the situation as a catch-22 for Taiwan, in which TECRO was unable to submit an LOR to the AIT because the institute was under orders by the State Department to deny it, while TECRO was told by the State Department that the LOR could not be processed because it had not been received.
However, ministry spokesman David Lo (羅紹和) yesterday denied the claims by Defense News, saying that "no such thing had happened."
This latest development occurs as Taiwan’s allies in Washington are increasing pressure on US President Barack Obama’s administration to release the F-16s to help Taiwan’s air force keep pace with an increasingly modern Chinese air force. US Senator John Cornyn last week threatened to block a full US Senate review for the nomination of William Burns as US deputy state secretary until Washington agreed to receive an LOR on the aircraft and release a long-delayed report to the US Congress on the balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait.
Defense analysts maintain that Cornyn’s move created a window of opportunity for Taiwan to immediately submit a new LOR.
Lockheed, the manufacturer of the F-16, said that unless it receives new orders, the line for the F-16C/Ds is scheduled to close at the end of 2013.
While efforts to acquire the F-16C/Ds remain stalled, a US$4.5 billion program to refurbish Taiwan’s fleet of 146 F-16A/Bs it had acquired in 1992 is expected to commence later this year or next year.
The Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (漢翔航空工業), a government-owned civilian and military aircraft manufacturer, will also deliver a batch of 71 refurbished Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) aircraft to the air force tomorrow as part of a US$588 million program to provide IDFs with a longer operational range and greater payload. The first IDFs entered service in 1994.
Some analysts see the IDF upgrades as a potential alternative should Taiwan fail to make headway on the F-16C/Ds. However, analysts are adamant that the technologically refreshed IDFs and F-16A/Bs will not be enough to counter the growing threat posed by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and that the F-16C/Ds will be needed to replace Taiwan’s F-5 and Mirage 2000 aircraft that are scheduled for retirement within the decade.
Additional reporting by CNA