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Upgrade of F-16 jets cannot fully protect Taiwan: business council

2011/09/22 17:58:36

Washington, Sept. 21 (CNA) The new arms package offered by the United States Department of Defense to upgrade Taiwan's F-16 A/B jet fighters is not enough to meet the island's security needs, The U.S.- Taiwan Business Council said in a special commentary on Wednesday.

The commentary by the council's President Rupert Hammond-Chambers was written in response to a U.S. announcement Wednesday that it had decided to offer a retrofit of Taiwan's F-16 A/B fighters as part of a US$5.85 billion arms deal.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama said it had not made any decision on Taiwan's request to acquire 66 new F-16 C/D jets.

Of the total amount to be spent on the arms procurement package, US$5.30 billion will be for the upgrade of the F-16 A/B fighters, US$500 million for continuation of the pilot training program at Luke Air Force Base in the U.S., and US$52 million for parts for other types of fighter jets.

"The Council welcomes the Obama administration's partial commitment to supporting Taiwan's efforts to upgrade and modernize its air power capabilities," Hammond-Chambers said.

According to the council's 2011 report on "The Balance of Air Power in the Taiwan Strait," Taiwan needs to overhaul its F-16 A/B fighters in order to modernize its air force.

However, renovating existing air fleets is not enough to defend Taiwan from military threats posed by China and will only contribute to destabilization of cross-strait military balance and encourage Chinese adventurism, the report said.

As it will take 10 years to retrofit the existing F-16 A/B fighters under the new arms deal, a shortfall of maintaining its air fleet and finding replacements for costly Mirage 2000-5s and obsolete F-5s has been created, the council said.

"However, with the Taiwan Air Force retiring its obsolete F-5s and prohibitively expensive Mirage 2000-5s, Taiwan will still fall perilously short of the airframes it requires to maintain an adequate air defense force, even with the scheduled upgrade," the report said.

The council urged the U.S. government to sell Taiwan new fighters to fill the gap, and argued that it would be much faster for Taiwan to acquire new jets than renovate old ones.

"The upgrade program is comprehensive, but spans almost 10 years with the first upgraded A/B coming as late as the sixth year of the program," the report stated. "If the Obama Administration were to accept a Letter of Request for 66 F-16 C/Ds now, the entire tranche of new fighters could be delivered before Taiwan recieves any of its upgraded F-16 A/Bs."

The number of operational F-16 fighters would be reduced during the upgrade period, the council said.

The council suggested that the U.S. could have approved the sale of new F-16 C/Ds along with F-16 A/B fighters as they are not exclusive of each other and running both programs simultaneously would prevent degradation of the air force's fighter capacity.

By approving the two programs, the U.S. can equip Taiwan with enough ammunition to deter China from aggression or provocation, and bring balance in the cross-strait military power difference, the council argued.

The sale of F-16 C/D planes to Taiwan is within U.S. interests and fulfills the U.S.' obligations under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) to provide the island with defensive capability, the report said. It will also provide new job opportunities in the States and help boost economic growth, it added.

(By Chou Yung-chieh and C.J. Lin)
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