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Taiwan's air force is facing serious shortcomings in its fleet, which includes 145 F-16 A/B jets, F-4s, French-made Mirage-2000 jets and domestic fighters.

A congressional assessment supporting the sale of new F-16s stated that “the U.S. government paralysis over sales of these aircraft since 2006 has given China time to develop more advanced capabilities — such as its fifth-generation J-20 — and evaluate capabilities to defeat even more advanced U.S. tactical aircraft such as the F-22, which may be sold to other U.S. allies in the region, such as Japan, in the future.”

According to two U.S. officials close to the arms debate, the White House National Security Council staff, including China military authority Evan Medeiros, worked quietly within the interagency system to influence several assessments on the impact of the F-16 C/D sales that were key to the president’s decision against selling new jets.

One of the assessments argued that the C/D jets were far more capable than earlier F-16s because of their strike capabilities and could be considered as undermining the U.S. pledge to provide only defensive arms to Taiwan.

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are guided by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which calls for the United States to provide defense weaponry to Taiwan and prevent the forcible reunification of the island by China.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province. Taiwan has had a government separate from the communist regime in Beijing since Nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949.

Viewing Taiwan as one of its “core interests,” Beijing has not renounced the use of force against the island if Taiwan formally declares independence.

Before the decision on the arms package, 181 House members from both parties wrote to Mr. Obama Aug. 1 urging him to sell the new F-16s. That followed a similar letter from 45 senators in May calling for the new jets.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana also has pressed the administration on the C/D jets.

Mr. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated in an April 1 letter to the State Department that “Taiwan has legitimate defense needs and its existing capabilities are decaying.”

In a letter sent Wednesday to Mr. Lugar, State Department official David S. Adams stated that “discussions and evaluations of foreign military requests, capabilities and needs are extremely sensitive and in most cases classified.”

“Although we cannot comment publicly on foreign military sales cases until those cases are notified to Congress, we can assure that this administration pays close attention to ensure that Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities remain adequate to its needs, as the Taiwan Relations Act requires,” Mr. Adams said.

Taiwan's air force currently includes 150 F-16 A/Bs and 300 F-4, of which 30 are considered airworthy.

Two other jets, the Taiwan-produced Indigenous Defensive Fighter and French-made Mirage 2000, are said by specialists to be of limited use.

According to a Senate aide, since 2006 Taiwan submitted three letters to the administration requesting new F-16 C/Ds and none was approved or discussed with Congress.
By contrast, from 2006 to 2011, the U.S. government approved $3 billion in sales of C/Ds to Pakistan, along with $650 million in weapons.

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