TAIPEI — Taiwan has suspended an effort to convince the U.S. government to release a squadron of F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighter jets to cover the downtime of one F-16A/B squadron undergoing lengthy upgrades.
There were hopes the request would snowball into fulfilling a longstanding push to acquire 66 F-16C/D fighters, a U.S. defense industry source said.
Taiwan originally requested 66 F-16C/D fighters from the U.S. government in 2006, but no release has been forthcoming. Taiwan military officials argue the Air Force needs to replace 55 aging Mirage 2000-5 fighters being readied for the boneyard.
Taiwan’s Air Force has a mix of 387 indigenous, French and U.S.-built fighter aircraft: 145 F-16A/Bs, 126 F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs), 56 Mirage 2000-5s and 40 aging F-5E/Fs.
The service is preparing to retire the F-5s in five years and mothball the Mirage fighters within five to 10 years due to high maintenance costs. This will reduce the number of fighters to 271 at the same time China is increasing its fighter strength.
A Taiwan defense industry source close to Lockheed Martin said there are still rumors the Ministry of National Defense (MND) might make another push, though “it seems unlikely as there is not a lot of money in the budget for new procurements.”
A U.S. government official said, “I have not even heard this mentioned as a rumor or talk for several years.”
A senior Taiwan ministry official told Defense News, “No such discussion is taking place at MND. Our position remains clear and firm in line with official statements made” in the recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) released earlier this month.
The QDR states that Taiwan will acquire or develop next-generation fighters with stealth, air-refueling, long-range and beyond-visual-range engagement capabilities. These aircraft will be equipped with advanced electronic warfare systems and air-launched anti-radiation, land attack and anti-ship missiles.
This is due to Washington’s refusal to sell F-16C/Ds and in part due to China’s recent revelation that it has two new stealth fighter programs, the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 fighter.
Taiwan’s state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. is upgrading its fleet of IDFs to carry more weapons, more fuel and reinforced landing gear. Possibly expanding the design into a stealthy fighter has been discussed for years, but with little progress.