SINGAPORE — Some Taiwanese defense officials are continuing to argue that no final decision has been made on whether the U.S. will sell the island nation . But others in the government are starting to come out publicly and say what people in the U.S. defense industry have suspected all along: President Barack Obama will not sell the country new F-16s.
Taiwan’s parliamentary speaker, Wang Jin-pyng, told the China Times newspaper that the U.S. has changed its mind about selling F-16s to Taiwan and that the campaign is “all but hopeless.” Wang added the U.S. plans to sell Taiwan equipment to upgrade its F-16A/Bs. Wang is a senior member of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang Party.
The defense ministry’s spokesman, David Lo, and some in the U.S. government have been downplaying the prospect that Taiwan’s bid for F-16s will fail. They say “no final decision” has been made and point out that the U.S. has until Oct. 1 to decide. Whether the decision is final or not, industry executives tell Aviation Week it is unlikely the U.S. will sell new F-16s to Taiwan, but they say the U.S. may allow Taiwan’s F-16s to be upgraded.
Some of the upgrade equipment that Taiwan is seeking, and may succeed in obtaining, includes active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and new targeting pods. But this has caused consternation among some industry observers. An Aug. 19 editorial in The Asian Wall Street Journal says if Taiwan gets AESA radar and the other equipment it wants for its F-16s, the aircraft could end up being more technologically advanced than the U.S. Air Force’s F-16s. But the newspaper says what Taiwan needs is more fighter aircraft, rather than a small number of highly advanced fighters. If war breaks out between Taiwan and China, the editorial asserts, then Taiwan will be overwhelmed by the number of Chinese aircraft, and the advanced technology on Taiwan’s F-16s could end up in Chinese hands.
Another danger is that China may succeed in gaining the AESA radar technology through its network of spies in Taiwan. The issue of espionage has come to the fore in recent weeks. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said earlier this month that the island needs to actively prevent any leak of secrets to China and must stop infiltration attempts by beefing up its counterintelligence. His remarks came after a Taiwanese army general and an intelligence officer received life sentences for spying for China.
Meanwhile, on Aug. 17, Ko-suen (Bill) Moo was repatriated back to Taiwan after completing a 6.5-year prison sentence in the U.S. for seeking to export defense equipment – including aF110 engine for an F-16 – from the U.S. to China. Moo is a former sales agent for Lockheed Martin in Taiwan. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security statement says Moo was sent back to Taiwan on Aug. 17.