Before the announcement of a US$5.8 billion arms package on Wednesday, Taiwan already had about US$12 billion in procurement in the pipeline. Without proper air forces, however, most of those items will be next to useless, and that money could be better spent elsewhere
The decision by the administration of US President Barack Obama to deny Taiwan the F-16C/Ds it has been requesting since 2006 has implications that go well beyond Taipei’s inability to procure modern aircraft, as it raises questions about the utility of almost every other arms sale the US has agreed to in recent years.
Over the past decade, the balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait has steadily shifted in Beijing’s favor. During that period, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) launched a dramatic aircraft modernization program, with the result that it now enjoys a clear quantitative and qualitative advantage over Taiwan in air combat capabilities.
Meanwhile, the number of short and medium-range ballistic missiles the Chinese Second Artillery Corps aims at Taiwan — including its airbases and airstrips — has also increased, reaching about 1,500 this year. Consequently, the number of Taiwanese aircraft likely to survive an initial volley and be able to take off from operational airstrips has diminished.
As the 66 F-16C/Ds sought by Taipei were to replace aging F-5E/Fs, failure to acquire them means that the Taiwanese air force will find itself with fewer aircraft, a shortfall that the US$5.3 billion upgrade to Taiwan’s 145 F-16A/Bs notified to US Congress on Wednesday will not make up for, even if it includes joint direct attack munition (JDAM) laser-guided bomb kits, more powerful engines and Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.
Taiwan can no longer hope to achieve air superiority against the hundreds of increasingly modern aircraft that have been added to the PLAAF in recent years.
My op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.