Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 2 News List

MND eyes purchase of fighter jets

AIR POWER Officials are reportedly to hold talks in Washington this month on buying 60 F-16s, but one source said the US had already agreed to the sale

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Ministry of National Defense yesterday confirmed that the air force is mulling the purchase of 60 US-made F-16 fighter jets to upgrade its aging air force fleet.

"The ministry has been in touch with the US on procuring F-16C/D fighters, but the purchase has not been decided," spokesman Rear Admiral Wu Chi-fang (吳季方) told the Taipei Times yesterday.

However, an air force official said on condition of anonymity that the air force has decided to buy F-16C/D fighters, and the US has basically agreed to the sale.

The US-based Defense News weekly yesterday quoted a US defense source as saying that the purchase of the advanced model F-16C/D Block 52 fighter jets would be discussed during talks between the two countries in Washington during May 25-29.

"Taiwan needs to modernize its fleet to counter the advanced fighters the PRC [People's Republic of China] is fielding now," the source in the Defense News report said. "Even if Taiwan decides to purchase the aircraft this year, Taiwan won't see the aircraft until 2011-2012 due to paperwork and the production timeline. By that time, the IDFs will be close to 20 years old and the F-16A/Bs will be over 15 years old."

The Taiwanese air force official said the air force initially hoped to procure more than 40 decommissioned F-15s to fill the vacuum in air defense before the next-generation fighter force is built, but it finally decided to buy more advanced F-16C/D fighters

Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) had said that because of the gradual decommissioning of the aging US F-5Es and Taiwanese Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs) over the coming years, the air force is expected to be short by more than 40 fighters in 2015 and needs to build a new fighter fleet to fill the vacuum.

Lee said the air force hoped to create the new fighter force by 2020, and that its first choice would be to use the newest US' Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) -- which will come into service in the next few years -- but the US has refused to offer Taiwan its newest fighters.

Lee said that the ministry has calculated that Taiwan would find it difficult to procure the US model before 2020.

The air force has 146 F-16 A/Bs, 56 Mirage-2000s and 128 IDFs in its fleet as well as more than 60 F-5Es. The F-16 and Mirage-2000 fighters will remain in service for another 15 to 20 years.

Wu yesterday said the ministry was still concentrating on the arms bill, which calls for the purchase of eight conventional submarines, 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft, and three PAC-3 Patriot anti-missile systems.

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