F-35Bs out of Taiwan’s budget: experts

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Military experts said Friday U.S.-made F-35B fighters would be ideal for Taiwan’s defense needs, but warned that a mixture of political and financial factors made the purchase of the jets unlikely. Shih Hsiao-wei, editor-in-chief of the Taiwan-based Military & Aviation News, told the Central News Agency (CNA) that the F-35B’s short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities were ideal for countering an attack by mainland Chinese ballistic missiles.

But he added that even if the U.S. was willing to sell the jets to Taiwan, the US$100-million-per-jet price tag was likely beyond the Defense Ministry’s budget. U.S. news media recently reported that Washington was preparing to announce a new round of arms sales to Taiwan, with the arms believed to be more sophisticated than those offered under the Obama administration. It was also reported that Taiwan could purchase F-35 fighters from the U.S.

Chieh Chung, a senior assistant researcher at the National Policy Foundation, also vouched for the defensive capabilities of the F-35B.

He said that should mainland China use ballistic missiles to attack Taiwan’s military airports, the takeoff capability of Taiwan’s existing fighters would be seriously undermined. “In this regard, the short takeoff F-35B can offset the advantage of the ballistic missiles fired by mainland China.”

But Chieh saw little possibility of the U.S. selling F-35B fighters to Taiwan.

“Strategically speaking, the U.S. usually prioritizes sales of advanced arms to its diplomatic allies. But Taiwan is not among its diplomatic allies, not to mention the current uncertainties surrounding ties between the U.S. and China,” he said.

While Chieh said the F-35B would be a great boon to Taiwan’s defensive capabilities, He also noted that the nation could hardly afford the high building and maintenance costs of the fighter jets. Upgraded Chinese fighters pose challenge In related news, Shih of the Military & Aviation News told CNA that China’s indigenous J-20 stealth fighters had been in service in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force since early March 2017, making the defense of Taiwan significantly more difficulty.

But Shih said a more powerful radar system, along with Taiwan’s F-16V and upgraded fighter jets such as the F-16A or the F-16B, would be able to offset the “stealth advantages” of the J-20. Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuang recently expressed his confidence that F-16V could effectively counter China’s J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters should a cross-strait war break out.

Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tsai Shih-ying said that the government would funnel NT$110 billion into upgrading the F-16V, with the project slated for completion by the end of 2022.