The Ministry of National Defense (MND) yesterday confirmed that the US Department of State has approved a possible deal for the continuation of a program to provide the air force with pilot training, and logistics and maintenance services for its Lockheed-Martin F-16s.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency made the announcement on its Web site on Monday, saying the department has issued its approval for continuing the program for training and logistics at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The department’s approval of the possible deal, estimated to cost US$500 million, signifies that the US government is committed to the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and the “six assurances,” ministry spokesman Major General Chen Chung-chi (陳中吉) told a news conference.
Announced by then-US president Ronald Reagan in 1982, the “six assurances” state that the US would not: set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan; mediate between Taipei and Beijing; pressure Taiwan to negotiate with China; change its position on Taiwanese sovereignty; revise the TRA; or consult with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan.
The Taiwan-US strategic partnership is solid and cooperation will grow increasingly frequent, he said.
The US government was expected to issue the formal legal notice for the deal to the US Congress yesterday afternoon and an official approval could be authorized about a month from now, the ministry said in a separate statement.
Taiwanese F-16 pilots have long received training in the US, where they gain knowledge in advanced tactics and learn from the combat experience of the US Air Force, which maximizes the fighting capabilities of Taiwan’s F-16s, it said.
As Luke Air Base is transitioning to Lockheed-Martin F-35 jets, the training program could be relocated to another US Air Force facility near Tucson, Arizona, it said.
The deal shows that Taiwan’s defense is a high priority to the US, it said, adding that the strategic partnership between the two nations are a positive contribution to regional security.
Making a public announcement of the potential deal is a departure from past practice and it could be a hint that the US government is trying to normalize arms sales to the nation, a source familiar with national security matters said.
The decision by the US to continue training of Taiwanese fighter pilots in the continental US demonstrates the close military ties between the two nations, since the US usually provides such services only to major allies, such as NATO members, the source said.
The news of the possible deal came days after a source said that the ministry had completed its budget plan for the next decade and sent it to the Legislative Yuan for review.
The ministry aims to raise the annual budget to more than NT$400 billion (US$12.96 billion) by 2027, a ministry official said on Saturday.
Last year’s defense budget was NT$327 billion, with arms investment accounting for 25 percent and personnel costs for 48 percent, the official said.
The ministry increased the percentage for arms investment for the 2019 fiscal year and would continue to do so for the next few years, as the defense budget is increased by 2 percent annually, and the adjustment would lead to noticeable changes in a decade, the official said.
Additional reporting by Lo Tien-pin and CNA
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