The Ministry of National Defense yesterday denied that senior officials had indicated during bilateral security talks in the US earlier this month that Taiwan could substantially lower the number of F-16C/D aircraft it seeks to procure from the US.
Citing unnamed military sources, the Chinese-language China Times and Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) reported that Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) and National Security Council (NSC) Deputy Secretary-General Lu Hsiao-jung (陸小榮) had proposed during the annual US-Taiwan strategic dialogue meetings that Taiwan only acquire a squadron of 24 F-16C/Ds — far fewer than the 66 aircraft Taiwan has been seeking to procure since 2006.
Commonly known as the Monterey Talks, the meetings serve as a platform for Taiwanese and US officials to discuss bilateral defense issues, including arms sales.
According to the articles, the decision was made after the ministry concluded it could not afford both the procurement of 66 new aircraft and the retrofit of 146 F-16A/Bs currently in service.
The upgrade package, worth about US$5.2 billion, was notified to US Congress in September last year. The letter of offer and acceptance for the first part of the upgrade program, worth US$3.7 billion, was signed on July 13 during a meeting between Taiwanese and US officials in Washington. Retrofit work is scheduled to begin in 2016 and will last until 2028, with the first upgraded aircraft to be delivered in 2021.
So far Washington has turned down all attempts by Taipei to purchase the more advanced F-16C/D.
Responding to the reports, ministry spokesman Major-General David Lo (羅紹和) told a press conference yesterday that there had “absolutely been no such proposal.”
The NSC also denied the reports, saying that procurement decisions regarding the F-16 were the responsibility of the Air Force and the ministry. The Air Force also confirmed that no meetings had been held with the US on the F-16C/D issue.
The F-16A/B upgrade program occurs at a time when a number of aging aircraft are to be decommissioned, creating a shortfall for the Air Force. According to a Defense News last month, 56 Mirage 2000 and 45 near-obsolete F-5 fighters will soon be retired, bringing the fleet down from 373 aircraft to 272 by 2020, or 146 F-16A/Bs and 126 F-CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighters, which are also undergoing mid-life upgrades since last year.
The number 24 is not a coincidence, as defense experts say this is the very minimum number of new aircraft that Taiwan must acquire to mitigate the impact of the looming fighter shortage.
US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond--Chambers, who is closely involved with the F-16 issue, said last month that 24 F-16A/Bs at a time would be pulled from front-line service during the upgrade program.
Industry sources say new F-16C/Ds could be delivered faster — as many as three years — than the upgraded F-16A/Bs.
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