Without completed infrastructure and training, the expedited sale of new F-16s from the US could become a burden rather than a help, a military official said yesterday.
Reuters on Thursday last week reported that Washington is looking to accelerate the delivery of 66 new F-16C/D Block 70 aircraft in response to what it sees as increasing intimidation by Beijing.
Under the terms of the original US$8 billion deal signed in 2019, the US is expected to deliver a single-seater and double-seater for testing next year, then deliver the 66 new aircraft in batches of four or five from 2024 to 2026.
The officials cited by Reuters had not yet figured out how to expedite the delivery, which would likely delay deliveries to other US partners facing threats from Iran and Russia.
However, a military official yesterday played down the significance of the move, as it would still take time to build out the necessary infrastructure and train personnel.
In particular, facilities at Chihhang Air Base in Taitung County where the jets would be stationed are still under construction, the former air force general said on condition of anonymity.
Rather than acquiring new aircraft earlier than planned, it would be better to accelerate upgrades of older F-16A/B aircraft, as well as radar systems for Mirage 2000s and Indigenous Defense Fighter jets, as it would be more useful against the Chinese threat, the military official said.
Apart from construction, pilots and support personnel are still being trained, retired air force lieutenant general Chang Yan-ting (張延廷) said, adding that accepting deliveries too early would be like “changing your clothes while wearing them.”
The Block 70 might use the same radar system as the F-16A/B Block 20, but since the engines are not the same, it would force trainees and ground mechanics to “burn the candle at both ends,” learning multiple systems at once, he added.
It would be good to receive the planes as fast as possible, as the US air force is quickly replacing its F-16s, but the key to countering hostile threats is to keep personnel, logistics and infrastructure ahead of the curve, Chang said.
Institute for National Defense and Security Research senior analyst Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲) was more upbeat on the accelerated schedule, saying that early delivery would allow pilots to familiarize themselves with the newest aircraft along with the newly upgraded F-16A/Bs.
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