TAIPEI — Taiwan plans to slash the number of advanced fighter jets it has been seeking from the U.S. from 66 to 24, apparently due to budget constraints, reports said Aug. 13.
Taipei applied in 2007 to buy 66 F-16 C/D fighters, which have better radar and more powerful weapons systems than its current F-16 A/Bs, in response to China’s perceived military threat.
Washington in September last year said it had agreed to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16 A/B fleet in a $5.85 billion deal, but it held off on the sale of new jets.
President Ma Ying-jeou has repeatedly urged Washington to reconsider selling new jets to Taiwan.
Local media reported Aug. 13 that Taiwan had renewed the call during the just-concluded “Monterey talks” in the U.S., the highest-level annual meeting between U.S. and Taiwanese military officers.
“But the number of desired F-16 C/Ds has fallen to 24, down from 66 when the Taiwanese delegates put forth the proposal,” the Taipei-based China Times quoted an “authoritative military source” as saying.
The defense ministry dismissed the report. The Liberty Times, another Chinese-language broadsheet, ran a similar story.
The Liberty Times quoted its source as saying the military could hardly afford another fleet of 66 F-16 C/Ds following the costly F-16 A/B upgrade plan.
But legislator Lin Yu-fang from the ruling Kuomintang party told the China Times that military authorities might have cut their demands to leave the door open to buying more advanced F-35s in the future.
Although the upgrade package was less than Taiwan had hoped for, it triggered an angry response from China, which warned that Sino-U.S. military ties would be hurt as a result.
Taiwan has ruled itself since 1949, but China still considers the island part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to invade should Taipei declare formal independence.
The Chinese military is gaining a decisive edge over Taiwan, but U.S. arms sales to the island make China’s superiority less crushing than it otherwise would be.