The Ministry of National Defense (MND) will continue to work toward procuring advanced F-16C/D fighter jets from the US, officials told the legislature yesterday.
The comments come days after a report by the US-Taiwan Business Council concluded that Taiwan could have less than 80 fully operational fighters by 2025 if new purchases are not made to replace aging airframes.
Taiwan has been requesting 66 of the fighters, an upgrade on its current stock of F-16A/Bs, since 2006 to replace its aging fleet of F-5s and French-made Mirage 2000-5s that will become obsolete before 2025.
Despite the efforts of Taiwanese defense officials, the F-16C/Ds were not included as part of the US$6.4 billion (NT$201 billion) US arms sale package, including missiles, helicopters and ships, announced by US President Barack Obama in January.
China has expressed strong opposition to the inclusion of the fighters in future arms sales, which the US is required to provide under the Taiwan Relations Act.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) said yesterday that procurement of the jets would also be subject to the political situation in the US.
“It’s [clear] the US has its own methods and practices, which obviously includes its political climate. However, [our] policy on the [F-16s] is very clear and we will consistently push for them,” Yang said.
On the low availability of spare parts and higher operating costs of Taiwan’s 56 Mirage 2000 fighters listed in the report, Yang said those issues had already been taken into account.
He said the fighter’s availability remained high and that it would continue to be a mainstay of Taiwan’s air defense, despite the report saying: “At one point, [the] average availability rate [of spare parts] fell to only 58 percent — far below the 75 percent peace-time standard.”
Late last month, questions were raised after a number of Mirage 2000s failed to take off during a military exercise in Hualien County despite having been fully prepped and ready.
Air Force Chief of Staff Ger Hsi-hsiung (葛熙熊) said that in addition to the F-16s, the Air Force has also been looking into procuring the more advanced US Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), which is able to take off from short runways and land vertically.
Calls for the procurement of the F-16s are expected to increase over the next year after Lockheed Martin announced that it would begin shutting down its production lines in 2013.