Senior military officers may be considering abandoning a long-stalled bid to procure F-16C/D aircraft from the US because of rising costs and could instead reserve budgets for an eventual F-35B bid, reports said yesterday.
The Ministry of National Defense maintains that the air force remains committed to acquiring 66 F-16C/Ds, but the rising costs associated with the package — now estimated at US$10 billion, from an initial US$8 billion, according to local reports — added to the about US$3.7 billion it expects to pay for upgrades to the nation’s 145 F-16A/Bs, could be shifting the argument in favor of abandoning the bid for the new aircraft.
US President Barack Obama’s administration notified Congress in September last year of a US$5.3 billion upgrade program for Taiwan’s F-16s. A Letter of Answer received from the US last week is believed to represent a trimmed down version of the original list, with associated costs estimated at US$3.7 billion, the sum the Executive Yuan says it is willing to pay for the program.
However, reports at the weekend said that additional costs associated with the integration of the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA), a key item in the upgrade package, could make the upgrades more expensive than planned and force Taiwan to decide whether to continue seeking the F-16C/Ds.
Ministry officials, including Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖), have said that decisions on the acquisition of new aircraft would be based on the requirement that the platforms be more capable than the upgraded F-16A/Bs.
In a report yesterday, the Chinese-language China Times said “senior military officers” believed Taiwan should abandon the F-16C/D bid, which has been stalled since 2006, and wait until it is possible for Taiwan to purchase the F-35B, a problem-plagued and increasingly expensive fifth-generation aircraft that is under development.
Any future purchase of aircraft by Taiwan should be “pragmatic,” it said, adding that even if Taiwan spent the almost US$15 billion required to purchase new F-16C/Ds and upgrade its F-16A/Bs and F-CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighters, the air force would still be a generation behind the aircraft that are being developed and deployed by China.
Although Taiwan would buy fewer F-35s than F-16s, their acquisition would still be beneficial to its defenses, they said.
Yang told the US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference in Richmond, Virginia, last year that Taiwan was interested in acquiring the F-35 at some point.
Within the region, Japan is planning to acquire 42 F-35s for about US$10 billion and Australia said it could purchase as many as 100.