Tue, Sep 20, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan plans to request F-35s from US

CONSOLATION DEAL:Although reports suggest the US is willing to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/Bs, analysts say Taiwan is still way behind China in the race for air superiority

Staff Writer, with CNA and AP, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA, Washington a

Taiwan would be pleased if the US has indeed agreed to help upgrade its fleet of F-16A/B aircraft and plans to move toward selling it the even more sophisticated F-35 model at some point, Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) said in Richmond, Virginia, on Sunday.

“The retrofit of the F-16A/B fleet is part of Taiwan’s national defense policy. It would be great if the US approves the deal,” Yang said on the sidelines of this year’s US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference, to which he led a Taiwanese delegation.

The administration of US President Barack Obama has reportedly decided to sell Taiwan a US$4.2 billion arms package that would include an upgrade to Taiwan’s F-16A/B fleet, but not the more advanced F-16C/Ds Taipei is eager to acquire.

Two US congressional aides told reporters that the US Department of State gave a briefing on Capitol Hill on its decision on Friday, but has yet to issue a formal notification of the intended sale. An announcement on the sale is expected by the end of this month.

Yang said Taiwan and the US have consistently addressed security issues in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act.

“Arms procurements should follow the prescribed procedures,” Yang said, adding that the US decision to offer Taiwan the F-16A/B upgrade package might not necessarily imply it had rejected the F-16C/D deal.

Noting that the F-16A/B upgrade and the F-16C/D procurement are two separate matters, Yang said Taiwan had not received any -formal notification that the US had decided against the F-16C/D deal.

In Taipei, Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) yesterday also denied the US would not offer the F-16C/Ds as part of a new arms package, adding that he had not received any official information to that effect.

Kao said the deal had not yet been finalized and that Taiwan had not been notified.

The F-16A/B is a high-performance aircraft with all sorts of combat equipment and functions and the fleet would be able to perform even better after a mid-life upgrade, Yang said.

There were no immediate details on the package of upgrades the US is providing for the F-16A/Bs. However, even if it includes sophisticated radar, avionics and missile systems, Taiwan’s air force will still lag far behind its Chinese counterpart, defense analysts say.

A Pentagon report issued last year painted a grim picture of Taiwan’s air defense capabilities, saying many of its 400 combat aircraft would not be available to help withstand an attack from China.

Wang Kao-cheng (王高成), a military expert at Tamkang University, said Taiwan’s air defenses would get a lift from the upgrade, but that the country is still at a profound disadvantage compared with Beijing in the number of third-generation warplanes it has at its disposal.

“Taiwan has fallen behind in air superiority as of now, not to mention the fact that China is developing fourth-generation stealth fighters, which could be very powerful,” Wang said. “The upgrade program will not fill the vacuum left over by the absence of the F-16C/Ds.”

Asked whether a possible setback in the attempt to buy F-16C/Ds reflected a US change in its policy toward Taiwan following its increasing reliance on Beijing in recent years, Yang said he did not think the US would take sides.

The Taiwanese government remains confident of US neutrality in dealing with cross-strait issues, he said.

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