Taipei, Sept. 5 (CNA) Taiwan's Cabinet passed a draft bill Thursday that paves the way for the purchase of a new fleet of advanced F-16 fighter jets from the United States at a cost of NT$250 billion (US$8.08 billion) to boost its defense capabilities amid the rising threat from China.
The bill will empower the Cabinet to create a special budget to cover the spending over several years until Dec. 31, 2026.
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the purchase is of vital importance for Taiwan.
He made the remark in the face of increasing military coercion from the other side of the Taiwan Strait, noting that the nation needs more advanced weapons systems to safeguard its security.
According to Su, over the years, Beijing has deployed more military aircraft and vessels into waters around Taiwan. In March, two Chinese air force planes crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, a rare move that violated a long-held tacit agreement between the two sides and thus seriously threatened the nation's security.
To meet Taiwan's defensive needs, the U.S. State Department approved Aug. 20 the possible sale of 66 F-16 C/D Block 70 fighter jets, known as the F-16V, to Taiwan.
The deal will have to first clear the U.S. Congress before the Defense Security Cooperation Agency under the Department of Defense officially makes it public. The process will be officially completed once both the U.S. and Taiwan sign a Letter of Offer and Acceptance.
Su noted that the last time the U.S. sold Taiwan fighter jets was in 1992, when then-President George H.W. Bush announced the sale of 150 F-16 A/B jets, and he lauded the latest U.S. sale as a major diplomatic breakthrough for the current administration.
The premier explained that since the 2020 fiscal year government budget had already been sent to the Legislative Yuan pending its approval, the government has to come up with a special bill to cover the funding for the purchase.
He called on lawmakers to pass the draft bill in the coming Legislative session to kick off later this month for the sake of national security.
According to Vice Defense Minister Chang Che-ping (張哲平), once the bill is passed, the military will finalize the deal with the U.S. sometime next year.
The U.S. will take two years to make preparations before officially beginning mass production of the jets for Taiwan. Taiwan is scheduled to take delivery of all 66 fighter jets between 2023 and 2026, he added.