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US offers $5.85B upgrades to Taiwan, no new F-16s for now

September 22, 2011 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The US announced a $5.85 billion arms package to upgrade Taiwan's F-16 fighter jets. This faced an immediate backlash from Republicans who accused him of selling a U.S. friend short and caving in to Chinese pressure.

RoCAF F-16A block 20 #6663 from the 5th TFG is taking off with while passing the tower at Hua-Lien AFB. [Photo by Falcon Tzang]

China from their side stated that the deal would inevitably undermine bilateral relations. It traditionally reacts strongly to US military co-operation with Taiwan, which it considers its territory. Last year, when the US sold missiles and other hardware to Taiwan, China suspended military exchanges with the US.

The announcement suggests the US will not now sell Taiwan a newer generation of F-16 fighters, as Taipei had hoped. It will instead upgrade its older-generation F-16 fleet.

The F-16 A/B fighters will undergo a retrofit which will bring them up to the same standards as the more advanced C/D models. Taiwan bought the 145 F-16 A/B fighter jets from the U.S. in the 1990s. Those planes remain the backbone of its air power, which is now dwarfed by the mainland's.

The U.S. is obligated under legislation passed by Congress in 1979 to provide Taiwan weapons for its self-defense. But it also appears to be weighing the reaction of emerging superpower China, with which it has sought to deepen ties.

The $5.3 billion retrofit program will upgrade 145 F-16A/B fighters procured during the early 1990s. Included in the package is the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation System and the Terma ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System.

Northrop Grumman's Scalable Agile Beam Radar and the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar will bid for the AESA competition to replace the A/Bs current APG-66(V)3 mechanical radar.

DSCA also released for the first time the Boeing GBU-31 and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). The U.S. denied past requests by Taiwan for JDAMs citing concerns the weapon could be used against mainland Chinese targets. Taiwan's air force will have a choice between the Lockheed AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER Targeting System and the Northrop AN/AAQ-28 LITENING Targeting System.

Taiwan will also have a choice between the GBU-54 Laser-guided JDAM and the GBU-10 Enhanced PAVEWAY II or GBU-24 Enhanced PAVEWAY III. Along with PAVEWAY, the DSCA released CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapons and the new Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.

The F-16A/B package will include an engineering and design study on possibly replacing the existing F100-PW-220 engines with F100-PW-229 engines. Taiwan air force officials have long complained the 220 engines were underpowered.

The DSCA also released a $500 million F-16 training program at Luke Air Force Base, which is a continuation of a program begun during the 1990s for Taiwan's 21st Tactical Fighter Squadron based in Arizona. "The training provides a 'capstone' course that takes experienced pilots and significantly improves their tactical proficiency," said the DSCA press release. "Approximately 90 U.S. contractors will provide aircraft maintenance and logistics support for the F-16 aircraft at Lukeā€¦the prime contractor will be L-3 Communications."

But the ministry repeated its desire for Washington to approve sales of F-16 C/Ds.