Obama won’t sell ad­vanced F-16s to Tai­wan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BILL GERTZ

Pres­i­dent Obama has de­cided to sell a new arms pack­age to Tai­wan that will likely in­clude weapons and equip­ment to up­grade the is­land’s F-16 jets, ac­cord­ing to ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional of­fi­cials.

The pres­i­dent de­cided against sell­ing Tai­wan 66 ad­vanced F-16 C/D model air­craft, de­spite sev­eral re­quests from Taipei and Congress, the of­fi­cials said.

The arms pack­age is worth an es­ti­mated $4.2 bil­lion, said of­fi­cials who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. A for­mal an­nounce­ment is ex­pected soon.

“All we’ve been told is the pres­i­dent has made a de­ci­sion, and I as­sume it will be for the F-16 A/B up­grade pack­age,” said a se­nior con­gres­sional aide close to the is­sue.

The de­ci­sion ends nearly two years of de­bate within the ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress over whether to sell ad­vanced strike air­craft.

The White House de­clined to com­ment.

Sup­port­ers of the sale say new F-16s, pro­duced by Lock­heed Martin, are needed to bol­ster Tai­wan’s de­fenses against China’s grow­ing air power and to pro­duce jobs for the U.S. aero­space in­dus­try.

China, which op­poses U.S. arms sales, is ex­pected to re­act harshly to the up­grade pack­age. China's mil­i­tary cut off ex­changes with the Pen­tagon in 2008 and last year af­ter two arms pack­ages were an­nounced.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has made its pol­icy of seek­ing closer mil­i­tary ties with China a high pri­or­ity, one rea­son that the pres­i­dent re­jected new F-16s in the lat­est arms sales pack­age, the of­fi­cials said.

China’s U.S. debt hold­ings also likely in­flu­enced the de­ci­sion. In Fe­bru­ary 2010, Chi­nese mil­i­tary lead­ers called for pun­ish­ing the United States for arms sales to Tai­wan by call­ing in some of the $1.1 tril­lion in China’s Trea­sury debt hold­ings.

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said the de­ci­sion not to sell new F-16s is a set­back for of­fi­cials in the ad­min­is­tra­tion who are con­cerned about Tai­wan’s de­clin­ing de­fenses. The op­po­si­tion to sell­ing the new jets came mainly from within the State Depart­ment, the of­fi­cial said.

The State Depart­ment had no im­me­di­ate com­ment.

In Au­gust, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Repub­li­can, held up the nom­i­na­tion of Wil­liam Burns to be deputy sec­re­tary of state over the jet sale. Mr. Cornyn re­leased the hold af­ter Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton promised that a de­ci­sion on the next Tai­wan arms pack­age would be made by Oct. 1.

In ad­di­tion, the Pen­tagon is ex­pected to re­lease a long-de­layed study on the air power bal­ance across the 100-mile Tai­wan Strait. The study is said by of­fi­cials to show that Tai­wan's air force ur­gently needs mod­ern­iza­tion.

China has been build­ing up its air forces along the coast op­po­site Tai­wan with more ad­vanced war­planes, in­clud­ing Rus­sian-made Su-27s, Su-30s and Chi­nese J-10 fight­ers.

Tai­wan's air force is fac­ing se­ri­ous short­com­ings in its fleet, which in­cludes 145 F-16 A/B jets, F-4s, French-made Mi­rage-2000 jets and do­mes­tic fight­ers.

A con­gres­sional as­sess­ment sup­port­ing the sale of new F-16s stated that “the U.S. govern­ment paral­y­sis over sales of these air­craft since 2006 has given China time to de­velop more ad­vanced ca­pa­bil­i­ties — such as its fifth­gen­er­a­tion J-20 — and eval­u­ate ca­pa­bil­i­ties to de­feat even more ad­vanced U.S. tac­ti­cal air­craft such as the F-22, which may be sold to other U.S. al­lies in the re­gion, such as Ja­pan, in the fu­ture.”

Ac­cord­ing to two U.S. of­fi­cials close to the arms de­bate, the White House National Se­cu­rity Coun­cil staff, in­clud­ing China

Be­fore the de­ci­sion on the arms pack­age, 181 House mem­bers from both par­ties wrote to Mr. Obama Aug. 1 urg­ing him to sell the new F-16s.

mil­i­tary au­thor­ity Evan Medeiros, worked qui­etly within the in­ter­a­gency sys­tem to in­flu­ence sev­eral as­sess­ments on the im­pact of the F-16 C/D sales that were key to the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion against sell­ing new jets.

One of the as­sess­ments ar­gued that the C/D jets were far more ca­pa­ble than ear­lier F-16s be­cause of their strike ca­pa­bil­i­ties and could be con­sid­ered as un­der­min­ing the U.S. pledge to pro­vide only de­fen­sive arms to Tai­wan.

U.S. arms sales to Tai­wan are guided by the 1979 Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act, which calls for the United States to pro­vide de­fense weaponry to Tai­wan and pre­vent the forcible re­uni­fi­ca­tion of the is­land by China.

Bei­jing con­sid­ers Tai­wan a break­away prov­ince. Tai­wan has had a govern­ment sep­a­rate from the com­mu­nist regime in Bei­jing since Na­tion­al­ist forces fled to the is­land in 1949.

View­ing Tai­wan as one of its “core in­ter­ests,” Bei­jing has not re­nounced the use of force against the is­land if Tai­wan for­mally de­clares in­de­pen­dence.

Be­fore the de­ci­sion on the arms pack­age, 181 House mem­bers from both par­ties wrote to Mr. Obama Aug. 1 urg­ing him to sell the new F-16s.

That fol­lowed a sim­i­lar let­ter from 45 sen­a­tors in May call­ing for the new jets.

Sen. Richard G. Lu­gar of In­di­ana also has pressed the ad­min­is­tra­tion on the C/D jets.

Mr. Lu­gar, the rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, stated in an April 1 let­ter to the State Depart­ment that “Tai­wan has le­git­i­mate de­fense needs and its ex­ist­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties are de­cay­ing.”

In a let­ter sent Sept. 14 to Mr. Lu­gar, State Depart­ment of­fi­cial David S. Adams stated that “dis­cus­sions and eval­u­a­tions of for­eign mil­i­tary re­quests, ca­pa­bil­i­ties and needs are ex­tremely sen­si­tive and in most cases clas­si­fied.”

“Although we can­not com­ment pub­licly on for­eign mil­i­tary sales cases un­til those cases are no­ti­fied to Congress, we can as­sure that this ad­min­is­tra­tion pays close at­ten­tion to en­sure that Tai­wan’s self-de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­main ad­e­quate to its needs, as the Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act re­quires,” Mr. Adams said.

Tai­wan's air force cur­rently in­cludes 150 F-16 A/Bs and 300 F4, of which 30 are con­sid­ered air­wor­thy.

Two other jets, the Tai­wan-pro­duced In­dige­nous De­fen­sive Fighter and French-made Mi­rage 2000, are said by spe­cial­ists to be of lim­ited use.

Ac­cord­ing to a Se­nate aide, since 2006 Tai­wan sub­mit­ted three let­ters to the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­quest­ing new F-16 C/Ds and none was ap­proved or dis­cussed with Congress.

By con­trast, from 2006 to 2011, the U.S. govern­ment ap­proved $3 bil­lion in sales of C/Ds to Pak­istan, along with $650 mil­lion in weapons.

“Tai­wan has re­quested the sale of 66 new F-16C/D air­craft, but even if that re­quest is fi­nally ap­proved in 2011, its fighter air­craft force struc­ture will still de­cline by 65 per­cent over the next decade, ow­ing the state of the rest of its fleet,” the aide said. “This fact alone demon­strates that new sales will not af­fect the qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive mil­i­tary bal­ance in Tai­wan’s re­gion, par­tic­u­larly as China fields more ad­vanced, fifth-gen­er­a­tion stealth fight­ers such as its J-20 over the next decade.”

Ap­proval of the C/D jets now would en­sure that de­liv­er­ies can be­gin in 2014.

The aide noted that up­grad­ing the older F-16s will re­quire that up to a third of the Tai­wan air force be taken out of ser­vice for mod­ern­iza­tion.

What will be in­cluded in the up­grade is not known.

The Pen­tagon’s lat­est an­nual re­port on the Chi­nese mil­i­tary says that China has 1,680 fighter air­craft, com­pared with 388 for Tai­wan.

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