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No change to F-16 upgrade project: MND

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's military said yesterday that there is no change in its ongoing F-16 upgrade project, despite a foreign media report that claimed that the program could be affected since the U.S. may soon call off the program due to a lack of funds.

U.S-based Defense News said in a report on Monday that the U.S. Air Force plans to defund the combat avionics programmed extension suite (CAPES) program, as budget constraints could force the service to move remaining money from CAPES to the F-16 service-life extension program (SLEP).

Quoting unidentified sources, the Defense News report said that the CAPES program, which would upgrade U.S. and Taiwanese F-16 fighter jets with top-line avionics, has huge implications for Taiwan.

“While more U.S. F-16s would receive the upgrade, the Taiwan piece represents a larger percentage of its overall fighter fleet. And without the program, Taiwan could be stuck with an aging fleet of F-16s as it continues to worry over China's intentions,” the report said.

The report also said Ministry of National Defense (MND) officials in Taiwan have already been made aware of the bad news recently during the Chinese New Year vacation.

Asked to comment, military spokesman Luo Shao-ho (羅紹和) told The China Post yesterday that the military has not heard any information indicating that the U.S. may call off the CAPES project as reported in U.S. media.

The MND established contact with U.S. counterparts yesterday in an attempt to confirm the report, Luo said. He noted that Taiwan has been assured that there will be no change to the CAPES program both in the U.S. and in Taiwan.

R.O.C. Armed Forces will continue to push for the upgrade project for the nation's existing F-16 fleet, he added.

Meanwhile, unidentified U.S. Air Force official yesterday told the Central News Agency in Washington that the U.S. media report is “ungrounded.”

“There is no change on the F-16 upgrades project,” a CNA report quoted U.S. sources as saying.

Washington approved a US$5.85 billion retrofit package to upgrade the country's total number of 145 F-16A/B jets in September 2011.

The deal also includes training by U.S. military for Taiwan's F-16 pilots as well as offering spare parts for the local Air Force's aging C-130 transport planes.

Possible Options

According to Defense News, if CAPES remains unfunded, Taiwan has several options.

The first is to go forward and pay the additional costs of the program under CAPES with no financial assistance from the U.S.

The second option is drop out of CAPES and go with South Korea's F-16 upgrade solution with Raytheon's advanced combat radar with BAE Systems as prime contractor.

The third option is to continue pressuring the U.S. to release new F-16C/D fighters or F-35s, the report said.

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