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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: Taiwan's F-16 Upgrade  (Page 2 of 2)

Northrop Grumman may have the historical edge in the F-16 contest: the AN/APG-80 that is fitted to the United Arab Emirates’ F-16E/F Block 60 Desert Falcons is the basis for the SABR, and Northrop has also worked with Lockheed Martin on the F-22 and F-35. Raytheon has tended to partner with Boeing in fighter programs – the RACR is based on the F/A-18’s AN/APG-79 radar, although the RACR has been flown on a USAF F-16 test bed.

U.S.-Taiwan Business Council chairman Rupert Hammond-Chambers said Lockheed Martin is expected to make a decision on which radar to choose sometime in 2013, and added that “both parties feel that they’re going to get a fair shout either way” despite Lockheed Martin’s historical ties to Northrop Grumman.

Officials from both Northrop Grumman and Raytheon believe that the Taiwanese and USAF upgrades are vital for future orders – of the 4,500 F-16s that have been produced for air forces across the globe, it is estimated that about 600 early-block aircraft would be suitable candidates for an AESA upgrade. That said, they are also bullish about the future of AESA radars, which are scalable and so can be fitted to platforms large (such as maritime patrol aircraft) and small (tactical UAVs).

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Hammond-Chambers said “it is all hands to the pump” in Taiwan as far as the F-16 upgrade is concerned. “There’s money being paid out, an EW suite that needs to be developed, pre-ordering of components – that’s what’s in play in the next three years,” he said. “Then in the fourth quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017, the expectation is that AIDC [the local upgrade partner] and Lockheed Martin will be then ready to start pulling off 24 airframes at any one time.” Each airframe will be out of service for about 12 months.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s seems no closer to getting 66 new F-16s than it was when the Obama administration decided in September 2011 to allow the F-16 upgrade but demurred on the new aircraft. Obama’s decision was greeted with howls of outrage by many China watchers and the Taiwan lobby in Congress. Led by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, lawmakers promised to hold Obama to the letter of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and inserted a clause into the Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) demanding the sale. Cornyn went on to delay the appointment of Mark Lippert as the Pentagon’s top Asia official until April, when Cornyn finally let the appointment go through after receiving a letter from the White House saying it would “give consideration” to the sale.

The re-elections of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in January and U.S. President Barack Obama this month have likely stymied any further movement on the new-build F-16s, Hammond-Chambers believes. “With Obama’s victory, we expect the status quo,” he said. “If the C/D sale is to move forward, the Obama administration is not going to move ahead under its own steam – it’s going to require significant pressure from Congress.”

James Hardy is Asia-Pacific Editor of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.

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