Taiwan’s jet request
The Obama administration is continuing to delay its response to Taiwan’s request to buy an additional 66 F-16 jet fighters.
A senior Taiwan defense official said the jets are urgently needed to replace aging F-5 fighters. The air force has lost 10 pilots in training crashes because of the old jets.
“Our pilots don’t mind dying in combat, but they don’t want to die in training accidents because their aircraft are too old,” the defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly.
Taiwan purchased 150 F-16s in the late 1990s and also some French-made Mirage 2000 jets.
The request for 66 more F-16s is worth an estimated $3.1 billion and was made in 2006. At the time, the Bush administration said it would not allow the sale by Lockheed Martin to go through.
The defense officials said Taiwan’s government has continued to press for the additional F-16s, noting that it has no other suppliers and that the Mirage has proved too difficult and costly to maintain.
“We’re not asking for the F35,” the official said. “But we need the F-16s.” The official noted that Taiwan’s military is concerned that if the sale is not approved, the production line for the jet could close. A spokesman for Lockheed Martin, the jet’s manufacturer, had no immediate comment.
The official noted that the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act states specifically that the United States is permitted to sell defensive arms to Taiwan in quantities needed to allow the island to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.
The Obama administration, however, fears that selling the new jets to Taiwan will trigger another disruption in military relations with China, which cut off such ties in October 2008 after the Bush administration announced it would sell $6.5 billion in arms, not including the F-16s, to Taiwan.
The defense official said that in addition to the jets, Taiwan has requested Blackhawk helicopters and two additional brigades of Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems. Four brigades were approved in the October 2008 arms package.
A senior White House National