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Taiwan considers acquisition of 60 US F-16 block 52s

May 17, 2006 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Taiwan is considering to buy 60 F-16 fighter jets to upgrade its aging air force fleet and counter what it perceives as a growing military threat from China, the US-based weekly Defense News reported, citing a US defense source.

ROCAF F-16A block 20 with Luke markings of the 21FS [ photo]

The acquisition of the advanced F-16C/D block 52s will be discussed during talks in Washington on May 25-29 between the two countries, the report said.

The Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) consists of 146 F-16A/B Block 20s, 128 locally produced Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs), 56 French-made Mirage 2000-5s and 60 or so aging F-5E Tigers. The twin-engine IDF is similar to the F-16 except that it is slightly smaller and has a slightly shorter range.

The F-16 and Mirage-2000 fighters will remain in service for another 15 to 20 years but because of the gradual decommissioning of the aging F-5s and IDFs over the coming years, the air force is expected to be short by more than 40 fighters in 2015. Hence they need to build a new fighter fleet to fill the vacuum, according to Minister of National Defense Lee Jye.

Taipei's first choice would be to purchase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters - which will come into service in the next few years - but the US has refused to offer Taiwan its newest fighters.

'Even if Taiwan decides to purchase the aircraft this year, Taiwan won't see the aircraft until 2011-2012 due to paperwork and production timeline. By that time, the IDFs will be close to 20 years old and the F-16A/Bs will be over 15 years old,' the source told the weekly.

The RoCAF F-16s are also scheduled to undergo a hardware and software upgrade of the AN/ALR56M radar-warning receiver to be completed by 2008.