President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday made clear her intention to buy more upgraded F-16 jets from the US and expressed the hope that Washington would reach a decision on the sale, as she tried out an F-16 flight simulator at the opening of the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition.
Tsai gave a speech at the opening ceremony at the Taipei World Trade Center’s Exhibition Hall 1 and toured the defense pavilion, where she viewed the indigenous Jian Hsiang anti-radiation drone, the Teng Yun medium-altitude long-endurance drone and experienced the F-16 simulator.
“I tried the F-16 simulator a while ago. We need to constantly enhance our air defense capability,” she said in an interview after the tour. “I hope we can have more F-16 jets.”
“I also hope that the US government can make a decision after they complete their internal process,” Tsai said.
The Ministry of National Defense made a request to the US in the first quarter of this year to purchase a fleet of advanced F-16V jets to increase Taiwan’s air defense capabilities amid increasing provocation from China.
However, progress appears to have stalled, as US President Donald Trump’s administration had yet to inform the US Congress of the proposed arms sale before it went into recess on July 26, five months after Taiwan made the request.
Some news reports said that this was due to the possible effect the deal would have on US-China relations amid an ongoing trade conflict.
In her speech, Tsai said that after she took office in May 2016, she incorporated the aerospace and defense industries into the “five plus two” innovative industries plan to use the government’s power to boost the private sector’s momentum.
Over the past three years, the government has proceeded with its goal of producing indigenous aircraft, she said, adding that advanced jet trainers in particular need to be domestically manufactured.
“The domestic aerospace industry reached NT$100 billion [US$3.18 billion at the current exchange rate] in 2016 and NT$120 billion last year,” she said.
Overseas firms have continued to place more orders, and the export value of the industry has grown 60 percent, she said, adding that these results show that the domestic aerospace industry is recognized internationally.
American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen, also spoke at the opening, saying that Taiwan-US security cooperation goes beyond arms sales.
The US considers Taiwan a partner in realizing its vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” the two nations’ militaries engage frequently and substantively in professional exchanges, and their authorities collaborate to enhance humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities, he said.
“These investments by Taiwan are commendable, as is Taiwan’s ongoing commitment to increase the defense budget annually to ensure that Taiwan’s spending is sufficient to provide for its own self-defense needs,” Christensen said. “We anticipate that these figures will continue to grow commensurate with the threats Taiwan faces.”
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