The Trump administration is moving forward with an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, American officials said Friday. The move is certain to further anger China at a time when a long-running trade war between Washington and Beijing has upended relations between the world’s two largest economies and contributed to stock market turmoil.
Now Taiwan’s Air Force has confirmed it expects to buy more than 66 new Lockheed Martin Block 70 F-16C/D Vipers and released an infographic about the fighter jets that says “See you soon!”
The Taiwanese Air Force included in the infographic in a post on Facebook on August 16, 2019. That same social media post also declared that the United States had agreed to sell Taiwan the advanced F-16s in 2019.
The infographic also shows a Block 70 jet equipped with a new launcher that allows it to carry three AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) on a single pylon, which will help increase its air-to-air magazine depth. This would be a crucial enhancement for attempting to defend the island from an aerial onslaught originating from mainland China. Lockheed Martin first revealed this option in February 2019 as part of its rebranded F-21 proposal for India’s fighter jet competition.
Also on August 16, 2019, there were numerous reports, citing anonymous sources, that the Trump Administration had asked the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees to conduct an informal review of the possible sale. News first emerged that the U.S. government was considering selling the fighter jets to Taiwan, something China has said would be crossing a “red line,” in March 2019.
After a formal notification, Congress is supposed to have 30 days to approve the deal. It is important to note that this does not guarantee the sale and Taiwan and Lockheed Martin would have to hash out the final terms of the contract. However, the Taiwanese Air Force and a number of members of Congress are certainly treating it as all but a done deal.
The sale of 66 jets to Taiwan would be the largest or one of the largest single arms package transactions between the United States and the democratic, self-governing island.
The new build Block 70 jets would give the Taiwanese Air Force a major boost in both capability and capacity. Just like its F-16A/Bs, Taiwan’s other core fighters, including the French-made Mirage 2000 and indigenously built F-CK-1 Ching-Kuo, are rapidly aging and will be in need of replacement.
The upgraded F-16Vs and the new Block 70 Vipers offer Taiwan a qualitative leap over these older aircraft, as well. Most notably, both sets of jets will have Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR), an active electronically scanned array type that will allow pilots to spot and track targets, including stealthy, low flying, and hard to detect ones, at longer ranges and do so more accurately, among other advantages.
The Taiwanese Air Force’s infographic shows a Block 70 configuration with conformal fuel tanks, which would significantly extend the aircraft’s striking range and would be valuable for long-duration patrols around the island. They can also increase the F-16’s available weapons stations for many mission profiles.
Neither the White House nor the State Department responded to requests for comment.
The Chinese Embassy did not respond to a request for comment, but Beijing has repeatedly expressed its hostility to such deals.
Taiwan split from China in 1949 and set up a rival government in Taipei. Beijing continues to view the self-governing island as a renegade state that will one day return to China. To prevent an outbreak of hostilities that would draw in the United States, every president since Richard Nixon has acknowledged the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China, but continues to have unofficial relations with Taiwan.