A fleet of F-16 fighters from the Taiwanese Air Force fly over Taipei's Sungshan airport. (Patrick Lin/ / Agence France-Presse)
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WASHINGTON — The US Air Force has figured out a way to fund radar upgrades for Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 fighters, despite a USAF decision not to fund its CAPES avionics upgrade program in its 2015 budget request.
The Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite effort would have replaced the avionics and radars on 300 US F-16s as well as 146 of Taiwan’s F-16 models. The upgrade was especially vital to Taiwan, as the 146 planes represent a large part of the country’s fighter fleet. Its F-16s are also of an older model, meaning the radar upgrades are desperately needed.
The fix was found largely because the agreement with Taiwan was a foreign military sales deal, where the USAF acted as the procurement authority. Purchasers at the Air Force issued a number of contracts for the CAPES upgrade to Taiwan, and a significant number of those came back under budget, an Air Force spokesman said. Because of those savings, the service was able to turn around and invest the money saved into paying for the radar upgrades.
Because Taiwan’s part of the program is funded with Taiwan’s money, the spokesman said, there will be no cost to US taxpayers for the radars.
News that the US would still help Taiwan procure the radars was first reported by the Christian Science Monitor.
While the news is undoubtedly good for Taiwan, program costs could still potentially rise for the Asian nation. Analysts in Taiwan have expressed concern that the country cannot afford the costs of the radar and avionics upgrades without the price-dropping impact of the extra 300 F-16s on the supply chain, which would also drive down life-cycle costs.
It’s also good news for Lockheed Martin, the prime integrator on CAPES, and Northrop Grumman, which was selected by Lockheed to provide its scalable agile beam radar design to fill the requirement for an active electronically scanned array radar on the platform.
“From our standpoint, we have not seen any indications of disruption to the program,” said William McHenry, Lockheed’s head of F-16 business development.
McHenry dismissed concerns that losing the 300 US F-16 jets could drive costs up for the radars, noting that the radar is interoperable with that of the F-35 joint strike fighter.
“[Northrop] is looking at the bigger program” than just F-16, McHenry said. “So when you think about Northrop looking at 3,000 total planes, including all the F-35s, a couple hundred F-16s is really kind of insignificant.”■