Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan to receive US arms package

MIXED REACTION:While some saw the US’ decision to upgrade the F-16A/Bs as significant, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said it was ‘woefully insufficient’

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Two F-16A/Bs are pictured near the air force base in Hualien County on July 16. The US on Wednesday notified Congress of a US$5.3 billion upgrade package for Taiwan’s 145 F-16 aircraft.

Photo: Yu Tai-lang, Taipei Times

Ending months of suspense, the White House on Wednesday officially notified the US Congress of a US$5.85 billion package of arms that it proposes to sell to Taiwan.

As widely expected, the package offered by the administration of US President Barack Obama did not contain the 66 F-16C/D aircraft Taipei was seeking, and centered instead on upgrading its existing fleet of aging F-16A/Bs.

The only surprise was the extent of the upgrade, which includes Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and a large array of new technology and weaponry.

Among the items cleared for release are 176 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, 176 Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems, 176 ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management systems, 128 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems, 140 AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, 16 GBU-31V1 JDAM kits, 80 GBU-38 JDAM kits, as well as engineering, and a design study on replacing existing F100-PW-220 engines with F100-PW-229 engines.

“It would have been much, much, better if Obama had provided brand-new airplanes,” national security analyst and Global Security think tank director John Pike told the Taipei Times.

“New F-16C/Ds would have made the Chinese think twice,” he said. “What we know now, is that any talk about maintaining a military balance across the Taiwan Strait is preposterous. Taiwan has not added a single new combat aircraft to its fleet this century.”

“You don’t have to be a panda-basher to see that this package is just not right. All the new kit is impressive, but it will be going on old airplanes with elderly design. It will improve the planes substantially, but it’s not just quality that Taiwan needs, it’s quantity,” Pike said.

“What Obama is saying with this package is that military balance across the Strait doesn’t matter any more because there is not going to be a war. Taiwan has seen the bright lights of China and is heading to join them,” he added.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “The upgrade of older model F-16s is a modest step in the right direction, but woefully insufficient to meet Taiwan’s increasingly urgent requirements.”

“This deal has Beijing’s fingerprints all over it,” she said.

The last remark was a reference to widespread speculation on Capitol Hill that Obama had bowed to pressure from Beijing in not agreeing to sell the F-16C/Ds.

Nevertheless, the administration put on a bright face.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell, speaking from New York where he was with Obama at the UN General Assembly, said the package included a retrofit for Taiwan’s 145 F-16A/B aircraft, including radars, weapons and structural upgrades, for a total of US$5.3 billion.

He said that it also included a five-year extension of F-16 pilot training in the US for US$500 million and aircraft spare parts to sustain Taiwan’s F-16s, its existing fleet of F-5s and C-130 cargo planes for about US$52 million.

“It is our strong view that these sales will make a significant contribution to Taiwan’s air defense capabilities because it is upgrading the backbone of Taiwan’s air force,” Campbell said.

“This retrofit program will provide a substantial increase to the survivability, reliability and the overall combat capabilities of Taiwan’s 145 F-16A/B fighter aircraft. It will help ensure that Taiwan maintains the capability to protect its air space in both peacetime and during any crisis,” he said.

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