A group of Republican lawmakers have warned that two F-16 fighter jet programs for Taiwan remain at “high risk” of falling further behind despite efforts to accelerate deliveries to bolster the nation’s defenses against China.
In a letter to US Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall on Friday, the two dozen republican representatives said they appreciated the efforts of US President Joe Biden’s administration to speed up deliveries, but are concerned that past difficulties in completing the production and transfer of F-16s could drag on.
The lawmakers’ concerns have been compounded over the past few weeks by questions about whether competing US military commitments to Ukraine and Israel, as well as Taiwan, are overstretching Washington’s ability to handle multiple conflicts at once.
Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Military News Agency via AP
“As regional security concerns around the world expand, we urge you to focus on delivering the military aid that we have promised to Taiwan,” said the letter spearheaded by US Representative Rob Wittman, vice chairman of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. “We cannot afford to over-promise and under-deliver to our closest friends.”
The lawmakers called for Kendall to provide a report by Dec. 18 detailing the status of plans to complete a retrofit program for Taiwan’s 141 existing F-16 fighters, as well as the delivery of 66 new F-16 aircraft built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
The delay in the retrofit program is approaching three years due to the lack of availability of key parts, the letter said.
Delivery of the newer jets has been delayed “by over 15 months due to software development complexities not anticipated by the original equipment manufacturer,” it said.
First delivery of the new fighters has slipped to between July and September next year from last month, Taiwanese officials said in May.
The whole sale was supposed to be completed by 2025-2026, but the estimated delivery time line has now moved to 2026-2027, the lawmakers said.
The two F-16 programs constitute US$12.7 billion of the total US$14.3 billion backlog of military equipment that Taiwan has agreed to purchase from the US since 2019, the letter said.
These include Patriot and Stinger air defense and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, heavy torpedoes and HIMARS mobile rocket systems of the type provided to Ukraine.
A Lockheed Martin spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawmakers praised several US Air Force and Taiwanese efforts “that are effectively improving” delivery time lines.
Taiwan has agreed to a software approach called “spiral development” to shorten delays enabled by Lockheed Martin’s production line “rightly prioritizing Taiwan aircraft,” the letter said.
However the lawmakers said they remained concerned.
“Given the Defense Department’s historical delays in executing these foreign military sales, the complexity of the F-16’s software integration, and logistical delivery challenges, we still assess the execution of these cases to be high-risk,” Wittman said in a statement to Bloomberg.
The lawmakers said they are willing to work with the Pentagon to ensure timely completion, citing China’s frequent exercises in the waters and airspace around Taiwan.
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