US senators have been briefed on a new classified Pentagon report that details the state and needs of Taiwan’s air force.
According to sources, the report justifies US President Barack Obama’s decision not to sell advanced F-16C/D jets to Taipei on the grounds that the planes and the runways from which they would operate could not survive an initial missile attack from China.
The report — delivered nearly 20 months late — is said to recommend that Taiwan buy short takeoff and vertical landing fighters, such as the British-made Harrier jump-jet or the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
Neither of these planes is likely to be made available.
The Harrier is now out of production and it may be another decade before the F-35B is sold for export.
Reuters news agency is reporting that Lockheed Martin — which also makes F-16s — is now lobbying the US Congress to continue pushing for the sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan.
According to Reuters, the aircraft maker is arguing that Taiwan has some of the best-protected and hardened aircraft shelters in the region.
In addition, Lockheed says that Taiwanese fighter pilots are being trained to take off and land from highways while its engineers are leading the world in rapid runway repair technology.
Other military experts say that even if the F-35B were made available, Obama would not sell it to Taiwan for fear of causing a major break with China.
They also ask why China is so opposed to the sale of F-16C/Ds to Taiwan if they would be irrelevant in a conflict.
Because of the sensitivity of the subject and the classified status of the report, the Taipei Times could not find any senators who were prepared to comment on this week’s briefings.
However, according to one Congressional staffer, the briefings were angled to support the White House decision not to sell the 66 F-16C/Ds that Taiwan has been desperately trying to acquire for years.
Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that although Obama has denied Taiwan a credible air force, Washington and Taipei “are hinting at combined work on a new Taiwan defense policy.”
This policy, he said, should ramp up ongoing military ties to provide know-how and sell Taiwan lower-profile, high-value capabilities to help the nation develop precision strike forces and a mobile, lethal ground force.
“One day Taiwan will get the air force it needs. In the meantime, it should start to build ‘no go’ zones around the island that signal to China that war is not worth the price,” he wrote.
In Taipei, when reached for comment, Ministry of National Defense spokesman Colonel David Lo (羅紹和) said that not just Taiwan, but many countries’ air forces face the same problem of runways being threatened or destroyed in wartime.
Saying that the US has urged Taiwan to strengthen its air defense capabilities around its air force bases, Lo said the military has been working on this issue and that it believes F-16C/D jets are required for Taiwan’s self-defense.
Additional reporting by Rich Chang