July 9, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Lockheed Martin has about four months to secure the sale of dozens of F-16 fighter aircraft to Taiwan, but some are predicting the US may not support the sale because of Chinese opposition.
A June 15 Taiwan
defense budget put aside 450 mln to be used for the purchase. The budget as approved gives officials four months to get pricing and availability data from the US, which essentially forces the Bush administration to decide the matter quickly.
The fatal crash of a Taiwanese air force
F-5F fighter last year sparked concern about the safety of the ageing jets. Taiwanese legislators called for the purchase of dozens of F-16 C/D block 50
fighters to replace the F-5 fleet which have been in service for three decades.
Observers said the decision would be made by the Departments of Defense and State, the National Security Council and others. The White House appears nervous on the sale, primarily because Chinese officials are expected to press the US to reject it. They just don't want to upset China as they would like to be able to count on China's help in talks to de-nuclearize the Korean peninsula.
Some say the sale does have a chance of being approved, as the Department of Defense appears to be supportive of the transaction. The sale could be pitched to China as a simple addition to Taiwan's fleet of 150 F-16s that the US approved for sale in 1992.