The United States is likely to help Taiwan upgrade its fleet of F-16 A/B fighter jets to counter a growing military threat from China, Taipei-based media said Wednesday.
The US administration has been evaluating Taiwan’s defence needs for the next five to 10 years, considering whether to supply the island with more advanced F-16 C/Ds or help it upgrade the F-16 A/Bs, said the state Central News Agency.
It quoted Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the Washington-based US-Taiwan Business Council, as saying that an upgrade deal could be announced next year while a sale of F-16 C/Ds was likely to take place in President Barack Obama’s first term.
“It’s only a matter of time,” he was quoted by the United Evening News as saying, referring to the sale of the F-16 C/Ds.
A sale of F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan would be certain to trigger the ire of Beijing, which reacted furiously when the Obama administration in January announced a a 6.4 billion-dollar arms package for the self-governing island.
Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper also cited unnamed sources as saying that Washington had agreed on a fighter jet upgrade starting next year, and would set up a special task force on the matter.
Defence officials were not immediately available for comment on the reports.
Taiwan has repeatedly pressed the United States to sell it F-16 C/Ds, as China embarks on a rapid drive to build up its offensive military capability.
The backbone of Taiwan’s air force consists of some 60 ageing F-5s, 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs), 146 US-made F-16A/Bs and 56 French-made Mirages.
Ties with the mainland have improved markedly since Beijing-friendly Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan’s president in 2008, but China still refuses to renounce the possibility of using force should the island declare independence.
The US weapons package for Taiwan announced in January includes Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, and equipment for Taiwan’s F-16 fleet, but no submarines or new fighter aircraft.
A furious Beijing suspended military exchanges with Washington in response. The frost is only now thawing, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Chinese counterpart set to meet next week in Vietnam.