- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Taiwan urgently needs newer model F-16 jet fighters to bolster its air defenses and overall security because of growing missile and aircraft threats from China, Taiwan’s deputy defense minister said Wednesday.

Andrew Yang, deputy minister for policy, also said in an interview with The Washington Times that the island’s military is interested in buying more advanced F-35 jets in the future.

“We have about 90 F-5s as part of our air defense aircraft, and obviously it is urgently in need of replacement,” Mr. Yang said at the end of a four-day U.S. visit to attend a defense industry conference. “That is the foundation for the proposal to acquire the F-16 C/D model to replace the aging F-5 fleet.”

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are based on a 1979 law that calls for the United States to supply defensive weapons to the island. This came after diplomatic recognition was shifted to Beijing.

China, however, has reacted harshly to recent weapons deals, cutting off military exchanges in 2008 and again in January after Congress was notified of the latest $6.5 billion Taiwan arms package.

The Obama administration, according to U.S. officials, has held up its decision on the sale of 66 new F-16s, worth an estimated $3.1 billion, to avoid further upsetting defense ties with China. They are to resume with a meeting of U.S. and Chinese officials this week in Hawaii.

Pentagon spokesman Mark Ballesteros declined to comment on the pending arms sales except to say that “we continue to evaluate Taiwan’s defense needs.”

Mr. Yang said other weapons purchases already in the pipeline from earlier arms sales include Patriot anti-missile systems, Black Hawk troop transport helicopters and Apache attack helicopters.

The missile defenses are needed to counter a growing threat from Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles now deployed by the hundreds in positions within reach of Taiwan, Mr. Yang said.

“Of course, missiles are the primary threat for us,” he said. “That’s the reason why we want to acquire the anti-missile systems and long-range radar early warning systems.”

Chinese missiles currently are targeted against air force bases and major military assets, which is another reason the F-16s are needed to bolster overall defenses.

“Protecting our military capability is vitally important so that we can still have the capability to conduct counterattacks, as China is going to use their air force to try and control the airspace over Taiwan area in order to conduct … amphibious attacks followed by those [missile] operations,” Mr. Yang said.

Mr. Yang said a Pentagon study of Taiwan’s air-defense needs is nearly complete and that different U.S. agencies will then weigh in on whether to approve the F-16 sale.

The request for the jets is “rational and justifiable” and should be granted, he said.

Mr. Yang said Taiwan’s military also plans to ask for U.S. equipment to upgrade 146 older F-16s purchased in the 1990s.

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