The United States is moving ahead with a massive $8 billion arms contract to provide Taiwan’s Air Force, officially the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF), with new F-16 Fighting Falcons.
The Donald Trump administration notified the U.S. Congress on August 15th that it would submit the arms package for informal review – the largest sale to Taipei in decades.
It has been widely speculated by analysts, and raised as a possibility by lawmakers from both American parties, that the administration may end the deal as part of bargaining surrounding trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing – the relations between which have deteriorated over the past two years due to an escalating trade war initiated by the United States.
It has also been speculated that the sale itself was entirely intended as leverage – although the administration does have a considerable incentive to go through with such a sale as part of its policy of strengthening the American arms industry.
While the United States previously placed economic sanctions on Chinese entities for a $2 billion purchase for 24 Russian Su-35 air superiority fighters [for doing business with Russia], with Western analysts claiming such a purchase would inflame tensions in northeast Asia, the F-16 sale to Taiwan is 400% as large and will supply the ROCAF with many more fighters.
Unlike the Su-35, a heavyweight fighter specialised in air to air combat which first entered service in 2014, the F-16V uses a very similar airframe to the original F-16 Fighting Falcon which entered service 41 years ago in 1978.
The fighter is distinguished from its predecessor by enhanced electronic warfare systems and sensors, but accommodating these notably increases its weight.
Without a more powerful engine to compensate, this serves to compromise manoeuvrability relative to the original F-16A. The F-16A currently comprises the mainstay of Taiwan’s fighter fleet alongside the indigenous F-CK Ching Kuo, with two squadrons of each deployed.
Taiwan intends to upgrade much of its F-16A fighters to the F-16V standard, and while this will not solve issues of metal fatigue and fast growing maintenance costs which have plagued the fleet it will provide them with greater situational awareness, sensors less prone to jamming and superior electronic capabilities.
A further 66 F-16V fighters will also be purchased ‘off the shelf,’ and are likely to be used to replace ROCAF’s sole squadron of Mirage 2000 jets.
These European aircraft have had an outstandingly high crash rate and are the only fighters in the Taiwanese fleet which lack access to modern air to air munitions, and a number of reports indicate their retirement could be imminent.
Taiwan notably previously sought to acquire F-35B fifth generation fighters with specialised vertical landing capabilities from the United States, the most costly fighter design in production anywhere in the world today, but was denied access to these jets.
The possibility of Chinese espionage, or of the loss of sensitive technological secrets due to prevalent pro-Chinese sentiments in Taiwan, meant that the ROCAF would only be sold upgraded variants of a 40-year old design – one which is considerably outmatched by modern Chinese jets across the spectrum of its capabilities.
Source: Military Watch