The China Post news staff

The United States has offered a US$5.3 billion package for upgrading Taiwan’s F-16 fighter jets, but the military is reluctant to accept such an expensive deal, a legislator revealed yesterday. A letter of acceptance (LOA) from the U.S. government arrived Wednesday, but the defense ministry has yet to decide whether to sign it or conduct further negotiations over the package, said Legislator Lin Yu-fang of the ruling Kuomintang. Lin described the package to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/B fleet as coming with a “shockingly high” price tag, even more expensive than buying new F-16C/D jets. The U.S. government is offering to upgrade the F-16A/B planes with Link 16 data exchange systems, ASEA radar systems, and the JHMCS helmet-mounted aiming system with AIM-9X short-range air-to-air missiles, Lin said. Lin noted that the AESA radar system may have to be redesigned for the upgrade, which would require a large sum of money.

Not even F-16C/D jets are equipped with the system, Lin said, adding that outside the United States, only the United Arab Emirates has adopted AESA on its F-16E/F fleet, Lin said. The United Evening News cited military officials as saying that AESA is a standard system for the U.S. F-35 and F-22 aircraft. If it were put onto F-16A/B, it would require the United States to develop a unique version for Taiwan, the officials said. It would be like what the U.S. government has done in the past when selling Taiwan a unique version of its reconnaissance planes, with a completely redesigned electrical system and with changes to the look of the aircraft, the officials said. The newspaper said the deal would probably be the most expensive upgrade for F-16A/B fighter jets ever. The military has already reported the deal to the legislative defense committee, but Lin said it seems unaffordable judging from Taiwan’s current financial strength.

The military is unlikely to sign the LOA and will conduct further negotiations on individual items of the offerings, Lin said.

Taiwan has been asking to buy F-16C/D jets, but the U.S. government has only agreed to upgrade its F-16A/B fleet. In 2007 and 2008, the government allocated initial budgets of NT$16 billion and NT$20 billion toward its attempt to acquire F-16C/Ds.

Vice Defense Minister Yang Nien-chu told lawmakers last week that Taiwan may give up on F-16C/D jets if they are no better than upgraded F-16A/B models. Military spokesman Lo Shao-ho elaborated on Yang’s remarks by saying that as Taiwan is already seeking to upgrade its F-16A/B fleet, it would not look at F-16C/D planes if it wanted to buy new jet fighters in the future.