Taiwan has signaled to US officials that it plans to move swiftly to complete a purchase of 66 new F-16 jets once US congressional foreign relations committees complete their review of the deal this month, a US Department of State official said.
The department on Aug. 20 formally notified the US Congress that it approved the sale, which includes munitions, defensive electronics and a top-of-the line fire-control radar that would allow precision-guided missiles and bombs to be launched from greater distances.
Once the deal is approved by Congress — and there has been no sign it will be blocked — Taiwan must submit a formal Letter of Offer and Acceptance that would be translated into a signed contract with delivery dates.
“According to our counterparts in Taiwan and the Taiwan representative’s office [in the US], they anticipate a quick move on their part” to finish the F-16 deal, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Rene Clarke Cooper said in an interview on Thursday after a breakfast meeting with reporters.
“If we are talking about the F-16s [alone] then the indicators are that’s a relatively quick turnaround from Taipei,” he said.
China has strongly objected to the sale of the jets built by Lockheed Martin.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) last month said that if US arms sales to Taiwan are not stopped “the Chinese side will surely make strong reactions, and the US will have to bear all the consequences.”
Congress has already approved a separate potential transaction for US$2 billion to sell Taiwan 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks, but no contracts have been announced for that deal.
“With every partner, we’re always looking at not only at their security requirements, we are looking at how they address it at home” in terms of budgets, Cooper said.
Negotiating a contract sometimes takes months and does not always result in a sale, but the Executive Yuan on Sept. 5 approved a special budget bill for the F-16 purchases, so the US approval process is in sync with Taiwan’s budget cycle.
“I strongly favor this sale going forward as quickly as possible,” US Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said in an e-mail on Friday. “I remain concerned, however, that the administration created the appearance that our security commitment to Taiwan is up for negotiation with Beijing over US-China trade issues.”
The US, previously wary of antagonizing China, has not sold advanced fighter jets to Taiwan since then-US president George H.W. Bush announced the sale of 150 F-16s in 1992.
The administration of former US president Barack Obama rejected a similar Taiwanese request for new jets, but agreed to update its existing fleet.
Even if Taiwan moves quickly to complete the F-16 deal, there is a question as to how soon they could be delivered. Taiwan would be the fourth customer for the latest model of Lockheed’s iconic fighter, called the Block 70. They are being assembled at the contractor’s new facility in Greenville, South Carolina, which opened in April.
The first Block 70 jets are scheduled to roll off the Greenville line in late 2021, bound for Bahrain. Slovakia and Bulgaria are the other customers with orders.
It takes 36 to 39 months for the first aircraft to be delivered after a contract is signed, depending on customer requirements, Lockheed data showed.
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