Military official says Taiwan to budget for upgrade of F-16 fighter jet fleet in 2012

By Debby Wu, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Official: Taiwan to budget for 2012 F-16 upgrade

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s military will ask the legislature to allocate money for possible U.S. help to upgrade its fleet of F-16 fighter jets, but still prefers Washington to sell it a relatively advanced version of the plane, an air force spokesman said Wednesday.

The comments from Pan Kung-hsiao came two days after a senior Taiwanese official warned that China’s threat against the island is growing, despite rapidly improving commercial ties between the sides.

Any American decision to improve Taiwan’s defensive capabilities would almost certainly anger China, which considers the island part of its territory and opposes U.S. arms sales as interference in its domestic affairs.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Pan denied local media reports that Washington had already signed off on approving upgrades for the island’s fleet of 146 American-made F-16A/Bs, but said the military would ask the legislature to provide funding for the upgrade in 2012.

However, Pan said, acquisition of an entirely new version of the F-16, the more advanced C/Ds, remains the military’s top priority because that aircraft suits Taiwan’s defense needs better than the A/Bs. A funding provision for the C/Ds is already included in the 2011 budget.

“Our primary interest remains the procurement of F-16 C/Ds rather than the upgrade of F-16 A/Bs,” Pan said.

Acquisition of the C/Ds has long been at the top of Taiwan’s military wish list, and officials from President Ma Ying-jeou on down have frequently pressed Washington to go ahead with the sale. Speaking at a Taiwan-U.S. defense industry conference in Maryland on Monday, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, head of the privately funded U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, said Washington would likely sanction the sale at some point over the next two years.

At the same conference, Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang said China is continuing to deploy more and more sophisticated weapons against Taiwan, despite rapidly improving commercial ties between the sides.

Yang’s comments were unusually strong for an official in Ma’s government, which — since taking office in May 2008 — has helped lower tensions across the 100-mile (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait to their lowest level in six decades.

China has been using a variety of financial inducements to convince Taiwanese both in and out of government that political union with the mainland — the cornerstone of Beijing’s Taiwan policy since the sides split amid civil war in 1949 — is in the island’s interests.

But Taiwan continues to insist it needs access to U.S. weaponry to help defend itself against a possible Chinese attack. The U.S. is obligated by law to provide the democratic island the means to defend itself.

Beijing cut military contacts with Washington in January over the Obama administration’s announcement of a $6.4 billion arms package for Taiwan, and according to the Pentagon, only restored them last month.

Aside from Washington’s security support for Taiwan, Beijing is also wary of an increasing U.S. presence in the western Pacific.

China reacted angrily after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a regional security forum in July that the peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes between China and its neighbors was in America’s national interest.

Beijing said Washington was interfering in an Asian regional issue.

But Washington has not relented. It expressed support for Japan last month in Tokyo’s spat with Beijing over the islands claimed by both in the East China Sea, and piqued the Chinese by calling for freedom of navigation in other area waters.

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