Responding to intensifying Congressional pressure, including a hold on the nomination of William Burns to be her deputy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has promised a decision by October 1 on Taiwan’s request to buy 66 new F-16 fighters. For more than five years, Taiwan’s request for the additional F-16s has been in suspended animation, held up by the fears of two administrations that the sale of these fighters would complicate U.S. relations with the People’s Republic of China. Finally, Taiwan’s supporters in the Senate may have found a way to force a decision out of the Obama Administration.
How important is it for Taiwan to have a modern Air Force? The answer is very. China is in the midst of an unrelenting military buildup designed to intimidate if not actually attack its neighbor. There are over 1,000 ballistic missiles, many dual capable, deployed opposite Taiwan. The Chinese Navy has also deployed its first aircraft carrier. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force is acquiring a large number of modern fighters and attack aircraft. Without the additional F-16s, the military balance across the Taiwan Straits will tip decisively in China’s favor. Yet, the United States is committed to maintain a balance of military power across the straits.
The problem is that Secretary Clinton may choose to provide Taiwan only half a loaf. In addition to a request for 66 new F-16s to replace aging F-5 fighters, Taiwan also has asked to modernize its current fleet of 166 older model F-16s. Taiwan needs both parts of its request to be acted on in order to maintain the military balance with its much larger neighbor. It is possible that Secretary Clinton will try and have it both ways, avoiding offending Beijing while still appearing to assist Taiwan, by approving only the modernization of the island’s existing fleet of F-16s. While this would be a good step, it is an insufficient one. Overall, without the additional new F-16s, the military balance will continue to move against Taiwan.
Failure to provide Taiwan new F-16s now also will put future U.S. presidents in a difficult position. The F-16 production line is scheduled to close down soon. This would leave the U.S. with only one fighter it could provide in the future, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. While I would welcome such a step, in all probability it would provoke an even stronger reaction from China than would the sale of new F-16s. In fact, this is the message that Washington needs to send Beijing. In essence, we would be doing the Sino-American relationship a service by selling Taiwan only F-16s.
The Senate needs to continue the pressure on Secretary of State Clinton and the Obama Administration. Taiwan needs both refurbished and new F-16s now.
Find Archived Articles: