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

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - Page 1

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.

“We firmly believe that our arms sales to Taiwan contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he added.

Reflecting the Obama administration’s approval of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) pro-China policies, Campbell said there had been substantial progress in dialogue and diplomacy across the Taiwan Strait.

“We support that process, we encourage it and we want it to go forward, and we think that these particular steps allow Taiwan to engage in both diplomacy and in security in the knowledge of a strong relationship with the US,” Campbell said.

Daniel Russel, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council — standing shoulder to shoulder with Campbell — said: “The preservation of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is fundamentally and profoundly in the strategic interests of the US and our allies and partners.”

“Progress in cross-strait ties over the past few years, dialogue and diplomacy, has been a major contributor to that stability,” he said.

Reminded that there are moves in Congress to force Obama to sell the F-16C/Ds, Campbell said: “No decisions have been made on selling new F-16C/D aircraft. It is still under consideration and we are aware of Taiwan’s request to the US government. The US and Taiwan will continue to examine the F-16C/D issue in the context of our discussions about Taiwan’s overall defense needs.”

“We believe that the approach we have taken is prudent and careful and we will continue along these lines,” he added.

Both Campbell and Russel denied that the US was in any way trying to interfere in the Taiwanese presidential election.

However, last week, after a Washington visit by Democratic Progressive Party Chaiperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), a senior administration official acting under a cloak of anonymity called the Financial Times to say that Washington had doubts about the DPP presidential candidate’s ability to maintain good cross-strait relations.

The strong indication was that Obama was in favor of Ma’s re-election and wanted to support him.

Asked directly about the telephone call by the senior US official, who is believed to have been with the National Security Council, to the Financial Times, Russel said: “To put it in a nutshell, there is no interference in Taiwan’s election. The US strongly supports Taiwan’s democracy. We respect the will of the voters to choose their own leaders.”

“We will work within the context of our official relationship with whoever the Taiwanese people elect,” Russel said. “Many of us had substantive discussions with Madame Tsai when she was in Washington. Although we don’t talk publicly about the content of those meetings, she was afforded a very respectful set of senior meetings and there was a full exchange of views.”

“What has really changed since the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act is the coming of democracy to Taiwan,” Campbell said.

Additional Reporting By Staff Writer