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September 20, 2017

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Council asks U.S. gov't to speed up fighter sale

WASHINGTON -- Taiwan's air force may have fewer than 80 operational fighters in 2025 if it is unable to procure F-16 C/D fighters as requested, according to a report released Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based U.S.-Taiwan Business Council.

To close Taiwan's "fighter gap" — the gap between fighters that Taiwan has acquired and the number it needs to defend itself — the council and military experts urged the U.S. government to move more quickly on the requested sale of 66 F-16 C/Ds, because the fighter's production lines may be closed in 2013.

Taiwan has repeatedly asked the U.S. government to approve the sale of 66 F-16 C/Ds to replace its obsolete F-5 E/F fighters. To date, Washington has neither accepted nor rejected the request.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers, the president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, said such indecisiveness will hurt Taiwan's capability to defend itself and Washington's interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Barack Obama administration may be biding its time to avoid further irritating China, Hammond-Chambers said, but he argued that no decision is a decision itself and that such a stance would cast doubt among U.S. allies in the region, namely Australia, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea.

Taiwan's F-5 E/F fighters are expected to be retired sometime between 2014 and 2017, reducing Taiwan's fighter fleet from 387 to 327 aircraft, according to the report titled "The Balance of Air Power in the Taiwan Strait."

Furthermore, the France-made Mirage 2000-5s and Taiwan-developed IDFs may not extend their service beyond 2025, leaving Taiwan's Air Force with only 145 F-16 A/Bs acquired from the United States in 1992.

Even the 145 F-16 A/B fleet, however, may look good only on paper by that time, the report warned. Sixteen of the fighters are deployed semi-permanently in the U.S. for training and testing purposes while other several dozen others will become non-operational by 2025.

The best estimate, therefore, of the number of Taiwan's operational fighters in 2025 falls somewhere in the high 70s, according to the air power report.

"The F-16 C/D production lines may be shut down by the end of 2013, " said Fu Mei, the report's co-author and the director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center. "And given a 36-month lead-time on warplane production, the sale of F-16 C/Ds should best be decided by the end of this year."

Otherwise, Taiwan's fighter gap will continue to widen in the coming years, said Mei.

If Taiwan is denied advanced fighters, it may opt to develop mid-range missiles, which Taiwan has already done, said Richard Fisher, a senior fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

Fisher, who was not involved in the air power report, said the mid-range missile would only further complicate the situation as it is considered to be more of an offensive weapon.

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