Taiwan Orders F-16 Training in USA, But Larger Defense Buys Remain in Limbo
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States has requested a possible sale of air-air missiles, continuation of a pilot training program and logistics support for a long-term F-16 training program in the USA worth up to $280 million.
At the same time, Taiwan’s larger defense procurement environment is being paralyzed by the deliberate actions of the Kuomintang or KMT party, despite recent Chinese threats of invasion via their infamous ‘anti-secession’ law, and widespread international fears that China’s massive military buildup could lead to more direct action after the 2008 Olympics.
The KMT has traditionally ruled Taiwan since its days under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek, but they recently lost that position. Now the KMT advocates a policy of close ties and friendly relations with China, and is blocking the very weapon sales which it had requested while in office.
To recap; 4 years ago, the United States offered to sell Taiwan a package of advanced weapons. The package, with a price tag of $11 billion dollars, includes:
- A Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile system to counter China’s buildup of ballistic missiles (and see related DID coverage)
- 8 advanced diesel-electric submarines to make crossing the Taiwan straits with an amphibious force more dangerous for China, and help to counter blockade attempts that use China’s fleet of 70+ submarines. These 8 modern subs would bolster Taiwan’s current fleet of just 2 modern submarines and 2 World War II designs.
- 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft to counter China’s own submarine buildup and blunt China’s ability to close Taiwan’s ports to reinforcements.
Indeed, these requests actually began with the KMT in power. The request for submarines was issued by the former Kuomintang (KMT) government in 1994. They also issued the request for submarine-hunting aircraft in 1997 and for Patriot PAC-III anti-missile batteries in 1998. In recent years, however, the KMT has blocked consideration of the deal more than 30 times.
The stated justifications for this opposition seems to change with time, and so the precise motivations of the KMT’s leadership figures in this matter remains a matter of some conjecture. Allegations have flown of corruption and worse, albeit in a country that has featured more than a few fist-fights in its legislature.
What is more certain is that the situation has become so grave that Defense Security Cooperation Agency officials and the US Congress’ Taiwan Caucus have both issued blunt warnings of late. The responsibility for defending Taiwan, they note, falls first and foremost on Taiwan. If Taiwan chooses not to defend itself adequately, hints have been made that the US may reconsider its commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of a conflict.
With respect to the F-16 training program, a few notes:
- The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States has requested a possible sale of 10 AIM-9M Sidewinder Missiles and 5 AIM-7M Sparrow Missiles.
- The AIM-9M Sidewinder is the current mainstay version of this infrared homing short-range air-air missile (SRAAM), but will be supplanted in future by the AIM-9X.
- The AIM-7 Sparrow, meanwhile is a generation behind the AIM-120 AMRAAM radar homing medium range air-air missile. The AIM-7M adds features that require midcourse and terminal target illumination only, as opposed to previous versions which required radar lock at all times. This requirement can make the aircraft a target itself, and also limits its ability to engage several targets simultaneously. The AIM-120 AMRAAM, in contrast, can be fully autonomous once launched.
- Logistics support for F-16 aircraft would include supply and maintenance support, spare and repair parts, support equipment, program management, publications, documentation, personnel training and training equipment, fuel and fueling services, and other related program requirements necessary to sustain a long-term training program in the USA.
- The efforts are all part of a “capstone” program of tactical flight training at Luke Air Force Base, AZ, and the overall estimated cost is $280 million. See full DSCA report [PDF].