Taiwan faces prospect of non-credible fighter capability within decade: Lugar

By J. Michael Cole  / 

Mon, Apr 04, 2011 - Page 3

Taiwan’s airpower situation is deteriorating and replacement of its tactical aircraft is necessary, justified and not provocative, US Senator Richard Lugar told US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton in a letter dated April 1.

“Given the decrepit state of Taiwan’s F-5s, the service life issues associated with its IDF [Indigenous Defense Fighter] and a growing problem … obtaining affordable and sustainable access to spare parts for Mirages, I am very concerned that if the Administration does not act favorably on Taiwan’s outstanding Letter of Request (LOR) for sales of F-16C/D aircraft, Taiwan will be forced to retire all of its existing F-16A/B aircraft in the next decade, leaving it with no credible air-to-air capability,” wrote Lugar, a ranking member of the Committee on Foreign relations.

The Republican also expressed concern over what he characterized as the tenuous nature of Taiwan’s current fleet of fighter aircraft and the urgent requirement to retire obsolete F-5 and Mirage airframes, upgrade F-16A/Bs and IDFs and procure new F-16C/Ds to replace retiring aircraft.

Echoing those views, the US-Taiwan Business Council wrote that Taiwan had a “legitimate requirement to maintain a credible air deterrent in the face of a growing military threat from China — a threat that, to date, has not been adequately discussed nor responded to by the [US President Barack] Obama Administration.”

In a press release also dated April 1, council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said: “The [US] Administration remains unwilling to respond to China’s growing military threat in regards to Taiwan.”

Reports emerged last week that the Obama administration could be delaying approval of a US$4.5 billion upgrade program for Taiwan’s 146 F-16A/Bs, which has been seen as more likely to materialize than the US$5.5 billion sale of 66 F-16C/Ds long requested by Taiwan. According to Defense News, some US officials are wary of including the active electronically scanned array radar or using the older APG-68 mechanical radar in the package for fear that the newest technology could fall in Chinese hands.

Hammond-Chambers told Defense News the F-16A/B program should be ready for notification next year, even if Obama balked at sending it to the Hill. The price and availability data, however, remains stuck at the US Department of State.

In the press release, Hammond-Chambers said US assistance to Taiwan in the form of arms sales had facilitated, rather than undermined, rapprochement in the Taiwan Strait.

“By providing Taiwan with necessary military hardware, America has underpinned the recent cross-strait detente — a policy the council supports. To deny Taiwan a credible defense force at this critical time means a weaker Taiwan in the face of an increasingly emboldened China. This is not in the interests of the United States,” he said.

Hammond-Chambers said current US policy toward Taiwan seemed to consist entirely of “periodic rhetorical support” for economic engagement between Taiwan and China along with reiteration of past policy positions such as support for the Taiwan Relations Act — albeit without concrete action that would support this contention.

“Cross-strait economic engagement has clearly reaped benefits in the short-term as tensions have been reduced,” Hammond--Chambers said, “yet the Taiwan populace still overwhelmingly rejects China’s expressed goal of unification.”

With pressure on Taipei to engage in talks beyond economics — to include politics and the military — expected to increase in the coming years, he said, if Taiwan lacked a credible defense and Beijing calculated that Washington did not have the resolve to assist Taiwan, the risk of miscalculation by Beijing would soar and could in extremis lead to war.

“While arms sales may cause short-term difficulties in bilateral relations with China, they have always returned again to a solid baseline,” Hammond-Chambers said. “If America succumbs to the short-term expediency of not providing Taiwan with much-needed and meaningful capabilities, the chance of Chinese adventurism rises.”