WASHINGTON and TAIPEI - The U.S. has released a $5.8 billion arms package to Taiwan that includes a retrofit for F-16A/B fighter aircraft, the continuation of an F-16 fighter training program, and a blanket order for spare parts for the C-130 cargo aircraft, F-5 fighter and Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF).
The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) released three Congressional notifications on Sept. 21 covering the deal under the Foreign Military Sales program. Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) also confirmed the release during a late night press conference.
A senior U.S. Administration official stressed that the sale did not indicate any decision had been made on Taiwan's request for 66 more advanced F-16C/D fighters.
On a call with reporters, the U.S. official said the upgrade package was a necessary step no matter what, characterizing the deal as an "immediate and significant contribution to Taiwan's air defense."
The official said that, with this sale, the Obama Administration has in less than two years released arms worth more than $12 billion to Taiwan.
MND officials will continue to press the U.S. to approve the export of the F-16 C/D fighters, but they expressed gratitude for latest release; one official called it an early Christmas gift.
The F-16A/B retrofit "manifests U.S. commitments to abide by the Taiwan Relations Act," said an MND press release. The MND also said that "when the retrofit is completed, our F-16A/B capability would be equal to 80% of those of the F-16C/Ds" and that "some items selected in the retrofit program have better performance than those of current U.S. Air Force F-16C/Ds."
The Obama Administration informed Zhang Yesui, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, of the sale the morning of Sept. 21. He registered his government's "very firm opposition" and said there would be consequences to the sale, but did not specify what those would be, the U.S. official said.
In January 2010, the Chinese government suspended military-to-military relations with the United States, following U.S. approval of a separate arms sale to Taiwan. Relations resumed during the final quarter of 2010.
Managing disagreements is essential to the relationship between the United States and China, the U.S. official said.
The $5.3 billion retrofit program will upgrade 145 F-16A/B fighters procured during the early 1990s. Included in the package is the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation System and the Terma ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System.
Northrop Grumman's Scalable Agile Beam Radar and the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar will bid for the AESA competition to replace the A/Bs current APG-66(V)3 mechanical radar.
DSCA also released for the first time the Boeing GBU-31 and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). The U.S. denied past requests by Taiwan for JDAMs citing concerns the weapon could be used against mainland Chinese targets. Taiwan's air force will have a choice between the Lockheed AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER Targeting System and the Northrop AN/AAQ-28 LITENING Targeting System.
Taiwan will also have a choice between the GBU-54 Laser-guided JDAM and the GBU-10 Enhanced PAVEWAY II or GBU-24 Enhanced PAVEWAY III. Along with PAVEWAY, the DSCA released CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapons and the new Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
The F-16A/B package will include an engineering and design study on possibly replacing the existing F100-PW-220 engines with F100-PW-229 engines. Taiwan air force officials have long complained the 220 engines were underpowered.
The DSCA also released a $500 million F-16 training program at Luke Air Force Base, which is a continuation of a program begun during the 1990s for Taiwan's 21st Tactical Fighter Squadron based in Arizona. "The training provides a 'capstone' course that takes experienced pilots and significantly improves their tactical proficiency," said the DSCA press release. "Approximately 90 U.S. contractors will provide aircraft maintenance and logistics support for the F-16 aircraft at Luke…the prime contractor will be L-3 Communications."
MND officials said Taiwan's budget for the new deal with take 12 years to implement. Taiwan is struggling to pay for a 2008 and 2010 U.S. arms package worth over $13 billion. With the new F-16A/B retrofit, the bill comes to over $18 billion, said an MND official. The F-16A/B retrofit will be handled by the state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation, which built the IDF. ĺ
Kate Brannen contributed to this report.