The Block 70 aircraft are the latest F-16 configuration with new avionics, an upgraded cabin and an improved engine.
The United States is looking for ways to potentially speed up the delivery of Taiwan’s next-generation F-16 fighter jets, U.S. officials said, boosting the Taiwanese air force’s ability to respond to what Washington and Taipei see as growing intimidation by the Chinese military.
Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters they had not yet come up with a solution to speed up the delivery of the Lockheed Martin’s Block 70 F-16 and equipped with new features. Currently, the aircraft must be delivered by the end of 2026.
The Taiwanese government has privately expressed a desire for faster delivery to the administration of US President Joe Biden, a senior Taiwanese official said as the self-governing island’s air force flies planes to intercept increasingly aggressive Chinese military flights.
More missions mean more wear on Taiwan’s planes.
“It’s all about risk assessment and it’s clear where the risks are,” the Taiwanese official said, referring to tensions in the sensitive Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from mainland China. The F-16 is considered an extremely maneuverable aircraft, proven in air-to-air battles and air-to-ground attacks.
Taiwan is on track to deploy one of Asia’s largest F-16 fleets after accepting the delivery of 66 newly built F-16 C / D Block 70 aircraft under a $ 8 billion deal approved in 2019. This will lead to the total number of F-16 islands, including older versions, up to more than 200 by 2026.
The Block 70 is the latest F-16 configuration, with new avionics, an upgraded cabin and an improved engine, according to Lockheed Martin.
According to Abraham Denmark, a former Pentagon official, a move to speed up aircraft deliveries will be seen in Beijing partly through a political lens.
“This is another clear signal of the United States’ determination to support Taiwan’s ability to defend itself,” added Denmark, which is now an analyst at the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank.
Dwarf from China
Despite its lack of official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the United States is the island’s main international supporter and arms supplier. These defense relations anger China, which has stepped up military and diplomatic pressure on the island, which it claims is “sacred” Chinese territory.
Faced with Chinese pressure, Taiwanese President Cai Ying-yen has given priority to modernizing the armed forces, which are well-armed but inferior to the Chinese military.
Lockheed Martin declined to comment on possible future requests to change the production schedule, sending inquiries to the US government and the Taiwan Department of Defense.
The US State Department, which monitors foreign military sales, declined to comment on any internal discussions about potential changes in delivery times.
The Taiwan Air Force did not answer questions about potential accelerated deliveries, but told Reuters in a statement that major purchases of weapons from the Taiwanese military were “strictly planned in accordance with actual combat needs and planning schedules.”
The sale of the F-16 from the United States to Taiwan is governed by US law and “based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs and the threat from (China), as has been the case for more than 40 years,” a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement.
Chinese interception missions are straining Taiwan’s air force, which suffered several accidents last year, including three fatal crashes. Over time, fuel costs, pilot fatigue and Taiwanese aircraft wear will jeopardize the island’s air force readiness if that pressure continues, Taiwanese and U.S. military analysts said.
Last March, a senior Taiwanese official said the Taiwanese army had stopped intercepting every Chinese plane.
Taiwan’s air force suspended combat training for its entire F-16 fleet last week after a recently upgraded fighter model crashed into the sea in the latest in a series of incidents.
“They (the Chinese) are killing their opponents without firing,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at RAND Corporation.
In 2020, the Taiwan Air Force fired planes at least 2,972 times against Chinese planes at a cost equivalent to $ 905 million.