Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Abandon F-16s, seek F-35s, senior military officials say

A F-35 is pictured during a trial flight
Given how unlikely it is that the US will agree to sell F-35s to Taiwan, such calls should be regarded with suspicion and as a means to stall aircraft sales for years to come 

Senior military officers may be considering abandoning a long-stalled bid to procure F-16C/D aircraft from the US because of rising costs and could instead reserve budgets for an eventual F-35B bid, reports said yesterday. 

The Ministry of National Defense maintains that the air force remains committed to acquiring 66 F-16C/Ds, but the rising costs associated with the package — now estimated at US$10 billion, from an initial US$8 billion, according to local reports — added to the about US$3.7 billion it expects to pay for upgrades to the nation’s 145 F-16A/Bs, could be shifting the argument in favor of abandoning the bid for the new aircraft. 

US President Barack Obama’s administration notified Congress in September last year of a US$5.3 billion upgrade program for Taiwan’s F-16s. A Letter of Answer received from the US last week is believed to represent a trimmed down version of the original list, with associated costs estimated at US$3.7 billion, the sum the Executive Yuan says it is willing to pay for the program. 

In a report yesterday, the Chinese-language China Times said “senior military officers” believed Taiwan should abandon the F-16C/D bid, which has been stalled since 2006, and wait until it is possible for Taiwan to purchase the F-35B, a problem-plagued and increasingly expensive fifth-generation aircraft that is under development. 

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Michael Fagan said...

"...wait until it is possible for Taiwan to purchase the F-35B, a problem-plagued and increasingly expensive fifth-generation aircraft that is under development."

However, remember that part of the reason for the increasing costs of the F-35 program will be inflation; although the CPI averages in the U.S. have been fairly low for the past few years, that won't be an accurate reflection of price inflation in sectors (such as the military) that are direct receipients of government spending. It's not just the ASEA upgrades for the F-16s - costs have apparently risen for the F/A-18s, F-15s and even the A-10s too.

Yet even given the benefit of the doubt on costs and possible delays, I'm somewhat surprised that you seem to regard a possible F-35B purchase with suspicion. It is, after all, primarily designed for the strike role rather than the dog-fighting, air superiority role.

In some ways the F-16 might still be better suited to this role than the F-35, but the stealthy F-35 would allow for an improved air-to-ground strike capability against Chinese targets: the offensive capability you have previously argued for. And they would presumably be more survivable too given their VTOL ability.

Having said that, F-35s would be a maintenance nightmare - especially the Bravo, and if the Airforce were to go F-35-only in procurement without new F-16s as back up then that could well be a mistake; the ASEA upgraded F-16s may still have had a slight edge over the Chinese Sukhois and J-11s in BVR combat in addition to being a much better dogfighter than the F-35.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Mike: I regard a possible F-35B purchase with suspicion not because I don't think the plaform would be suitable (it would), but rather because I cannot see such a deal materializing under the current circumstances, KMT or DPP in power. There is too much fear of tech transfer, for one, let alone the political repercussions of allowing such a sale to proceed. Calls for the F-35 are for sound effect; the Ma administration would not risk compromising cross-strait relations over such a deal.

Michael Fagan said...

I get ahead of myself sometimes. You are right, of course.