The Trump administration is being accused by U.S. lawmakers of both political parties of dragging its feet on the sale of up to 66 Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon Viper (V) Block 70 multirole combat aircraft to the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF), according to local media reports.
Members of the U.S. Congress said that the Trump White House is delaying approving the weapons sale to Taiwan to avoid upsetting China and to use as a bargaining chip during trade negotiations currently underway, The New York Times reports. The sales were reportedly deferred after trade advisers appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump.
The sale of 66 F-16 fighter jets, estimated to be worth over $8 billion, is not a done deal within the administration, according to a senior adviser to Trump. “The sale of F-16s to Taiwan, I think, has not gone through,” Michael Pillsbury, was quoted as saying by IHS Jane’s during a think tank event in Washington D.C. on July 25.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense requested F-16 fighter jets from the United States in March to “demonstrate our determination and ability to defend ourselves,” according to the country’s Deputy Defense Minister Shen Yi-ming. Taiwan has also expressed interesting in acquiring the F-35B, the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of Lockheed Martin’s supersonic fifth-generation fighter jet.
The last sale of U.S. fighter jets to Taiwan took place in 1992, under the George H.W. Bush administration.
The ROCAF is in the process of upgrading its F-16 A/B fleet to the F-16V variant under a program codenamed Phoenix Rising Project, which was launched in 2016. By 2023, the ROCAF hopes to upgrade 144 F-16 A/B Fighting Falcon combat aircraft to the F-16V configuration. Upgrades costs are estimated at over $5 billion.
The first four retrofitted F-16A/B fighters, upgraded by Taiwan’s state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), were handed over to ROCAF at an airbase in Chiayi county in southwestern Taiwan in October 2018. Taiwan also intends to procure additional beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missiles form the U.S.
In early July, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks, along with a range of support equipment and arms including M88A2 HERCULES vehicles, and M1070A1 Heavy Equipment Transporters for an estimated $2 billion.
In a separate deal, the sale of 250 Block I -92F MANPAD Stinger missiles and four I-92F MANPAD Stinger Fly-to-Buy missiles was also approved by the U.S. State Department.
Earlier this week, ROCAF F-16 fighter jets, armed with AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, carried out live-fire drills against maritime targets, as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is conducting a naval exercise off Taiwan’s coast. The decommissioned ships used as targets by the ROCAF aircraft reportedly carried the names of PLAN warships.