The military has officially requested new fighter jets from the US, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday, adding that Washington was asked to advise on the type and number of fighter jets that would be required to meet Taiwan’s operational needs.
The Air Force Command has been planning to procure new fighter jets since 2003, as the aircraft in its service are nearing the middle of their service life, Deputy Minister of National Defense Shen Yi-ming (沈一鳴) told a news conference in Taipei.
The minister’s remarks clarified the ministry’s partial confirmation on Wednesday of a report in the Chinese-language Apple Daily that said it was considering a US$13 billion deal for 66 F-16Vs, including training and servicing.
Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times
Shen and other defense officials yesterday said a request has been sent to the US, but that media outlets were incorrect about the details.
Shen rejected a report by the Chinese-language China Times saying that the deal had originated with the US government, and that it was overpriced and designed to facilitate a visit to the US by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) ahead of the presidential election next year.
“The story is sheer speculation and utterly without any basis in fact,” Shen said. “The ministry strongly protests the report and we demand that the news agency responsible retract the story.”
The air force considers Lockheed Martin F-16A/B/Vs, Dassault Mirage F-2000-5s and AIDC F-CK-1s its best fighters, of which there are 326, but the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s growing air power is causing an “imbalance” across the Taiwan Strait, Air Force Chief of Planning Major General Tang Hung-an (唐洪安) said.
The military would not object to any type of jet fighter that meets its operational requirements and would make no mention of “what the armed forces want” in any communications with the US, Tang said.
Instead, the military would wait for the US’ recommendations, and then select and negotiate the price accordingly, Tang said.
A program to upgrade F-16A/Bs to F-16Vs is behind schedule, but the air force is conducting monthly meetings with Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC, 漢翔航空工業), Lockheed Martin and the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Tang said.
Meanwhile, the air force expects AIDC to increase its staff and technical capabilities to the point that it could begin retrofitting 24 F-16Vs per year, Tang said.
Ministry spokesman Major General Chen Chung-chi (陳中吉) said the plan for the new fighter jets is about enhancing air defense capabilities, not replacing existing jets.
The F-16V carries the AN/APG-83 radar, which means it has an improved detection range and fire-control compared with its predecessors. It can also be equipped with AIM-9X missiles linked to a helmet-mounted cueing system.
AIT spokeswoman Amanda Mansour said that it is the policy of the US government not to comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until the US Congress has been formally notified.
“Without speaking to any specific cases, we can say that under long-standing US policy, US arms sales to Taiwan are guided by the Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] and based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs,” Mansour said.
The US and Taiwan have a strong defense relationship and have maintained continuous communication regarding the latter’s defense requirements, she said.
Across decades and presidential administrations, the US has remained deeply committed to meeting Taiwan’s defense needs, she said.
“This administration is resolved to fully implement the provisions of the TRA under which the US makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” she added.
Additional reporting by Stacy Hsu
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