Block 70 aircraft is the latest F-16 configuration with new avionics, a modernized cabin and an improved engine.
The United States is looking for ways to possibly deliver Taiwan’s Next Generation Newly Built F-16 Fighter Jets, said U.S. officials, strengthening the Taiwanese air force’s ability to respond to what Washington and Taipei see as increasing intimidation by China’s military.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency that they had not yet come up with a solution on how to deliver Block 70 F-16s, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and equipped with new capabilities, to speed up. The aircraft will currently be delivered by the end of 2026.
The Taiwanese government has privately expressed its wish for a faster delivery to US President Joe Biden’s administration, a senior Taiwanese official said as the self-governing island’s air force scrambled for jets. intercepts increasingly aggressive Chinese military flights.
More missions means more wear and tear on Taiwan’s planes.
“It’s all about risk-taking … and it’s clear where the risks are,” the Taiwanese official said, referring to tensions over the sensitive Strait of Taiwan that separates the island from mainland China. The F-16 is considered a highly maneuverable aircraft proven in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack.
Taiwan is on course to host one of the largest F-16 fleets in Asia once it is delivered 66 newly built F-16 C / D Block 70 aircraft under a $ 8 billion deal approved in 2019. That would bring the island’s total number of F-16s, including older versions, to more than 200 by 2026.
The Block 70 aircraft is the latest F-16 configuration, with new avionics, a modernized cockpit and an improved engine, according to Lockheed Martin.
According to Abraham Denmark, a former senior Pentagon official, a move to accelerate the delivery of the plane in Beijing will be seen in part through a political lens.
“This is another clear sign of American determination to support Taiwan’s ability to defend itself,” added Denmark, now an analyst at Washington-based Wilson Center think tank.
Dwarfed by China
Despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the US is the island’s main international supporter and arms supplier. That defensive relationship angered China, which increased military and diplomatic pressure on the island, which he claimed was “sacred” Chinese territory.
In light of Chinese pressure, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has prioritized the modernization of the armed forces, which are well-armed but dwarfed by China’s military.
Lockheed Martin declined to comment on any possible future requests to change the production schedule, and referred inquiries to the U.S. government and Taiwan’s Department of Defense.
The U.S. State Department, which oversees foreign military sales, declined to comment on any internal discussions about possible changes to the delivery timeline.
Taiwan’s air force did not respond to questions about possible accelerated deliveries, but said in a statement to Reuters that the Taiwanese army’s major arms purchases are “strictly planned in accordance with actual combat needs and planning schedules”.
The U.S. sale of F-16s to Taiwan was guided by U.S. law and “based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs and the threat posed by (China), as has been the case for more than 40 years,” a Pentagon spokesman said. a statement.
The missions to intercept Chinese planes put stress on Taiwan’s air force, which had several accidents last year, including three fatal accidents. Over time, fuel costs, pilot fatigue, and wear and tear on Taiwanese aircraft will threaten the island’s air force readiness if this pressure continues, Taiwanese and U.S. military analysts said.
Last March, a senior Taiwanese official said Taiwan’s army had stopped intercepting every Chinese plane.
Taiwan’s air force last week suspended combat training for its entire F-16 fleet after a recently upgraded model of the fighter jet crashed into the latest in a series of accidents at sea.
“They (the Chinese) kill their opponent without firing a shot,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at RAND Corporation.
In 2020, Taiwan’s air force jets scrambled at least 2,972 times against Chinese aircraft at a cost equivalent to US $ 905m.