A lawmaker questioned a US Department of State official about possible threats — reported earlier this week in the Taipei Times — to plans for a major upgrade of Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 jets.
Republican US Representative Steve Chabot raised the issue on Wednesday when US Assistant Secretary for East Asia Daniel Russel testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the US’ future in Asia.
While Russel replied at some length, he did not address the question directly, neither confirming nor denying the possible threat.
However, the US-Taiwan Business Council issued a statement saying that it believed Washington remained committed to the upgrade program.
“Last week, Taiwan received news that the US Air Force plans to defund the Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (CAPES), which has huge implications for Taiwan,” Chabot said. “If continued, that program would upgrade 300 US F-16s and 146 Taiwanese F-16s with top-line avionics. If unfunded, then Taiwan will likely either turn to South Korea or face the detrimental possibility of no upgrades and an aging fleet of [F-16]A/Bs.”
He said the other option was for the US to release new F-16C/D aircraft or F-35s, but despite consistent support from many in the US Congress, that had not yet happened.
“Since the administration continues to deny Taiwan’s request to buy F-16C/D fighters and is now cutting the CAPES program, what options does Taiwan have?” Chabot asked. “What solution — a solution that’s affordable to Taiwan — does the administration intend to offer? If the US is going to follow through on its rebalance objectives, ensuring the security of our allies and friends, that’s critical. This is an important issue and I hope the administration takes finding a solution seriously.”
Russel thanked Chabot for raising the issue and stressed that the administration of US President Barack Obama took its unofficial relations with Taiwan — and the Taiwan Relations Act — “very seriously.”
“The Obama administration, in less than five years, notified something on the order of 10 billion dollars or 11 billion dollars worth of arms sales to Taiwan, which is quite formidable,” Russel said.
Russel said that the administration had sustained a “robust dialogue on security and defense issues” with Taiwan.
“Our policy is that arms sales and our contribution to Taiwan’s security contributes to cross-strait stability, and we are committed to helping to meet Taiwan’s legitimate security needs,” he said.
Russel said that this occurred in the context of a “one China” policy consistent with the three US-China communiques, as well as the Taiwan Relations Act.
“What is different now, I would assert, Mr Chairman, are two things. One is that the continued military buildup on the mainland side of the Strait is unabated and, as in the past, that contributes to a sense of insecurity that in turn inspires Taiwan to seek additional arms and security assistance,” he said.
Russel said that the other thing that had changed since Obama took office was the “quality and intensity” of cross-strait dialogue itself.
“There has been a stabilizing dynamic in the relationship between Taiwan and the mainland, something that we very much support and encourage, and we hope to see continued progress towards reconciliation across the Strait,” he said.
Separately, a statement from the US-Taiwan Business Council said that recent reports indicated that the alleged defunding by the US Air Force of CAPES would negatively impact Taiwan.
“The Council believes these reports to be inaccurate,” the statement said. “Should this defunding occur, it will have no impact on the schedule or cost for Taiwan’s extensive upgrade program, including on the development of the Active Electronically Scanned Array radar.”
“The Council understands that the US Air Force remains fully committed to the Taiwan F-16 upgrade program and that their assurances are reflected in the signed Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA)... That commitment ensures that the cost and schedule put in place by the LOA remains and that the Taiwan military will not see any changes to their program even if the CAPES program is altered,” the statement said.
US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said: “I am pleased that the US Air Force remains committed to the Taiwan upgrade program and to the assurances that were made in the LOA... This retrofit program is the first of two steps to upgrade Taiwan’s fighter fleet, with the second step — the purchase of replacement F-16C/Ds — still to be approved.”
He added that the ongoing impact of tighter US defense spending and the decisions impacting fighter upgrades merely highlighted the need for the US to continue to build capacity among its Asia-Pacific region security allies, including Taiwan.
“Taiwan has a legitimate need for additional fighters to meet its sovereign security requirements and F-16C/Ds would best fit that need,” Hammond-Chambers added.
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