Just as suggested here recently, Taiwan is realizing that the right jet to survive and prevail against possible Chinese aggression is not the latest model F-16 but the short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, otherwise known as the F-35B. Taiwan is really the perfect customer for the F-35B, geographically they are sitting on China’s doorstep and they are strategically focused of dispersed fighter operations due to the threat post by China’s ballistic and cruise missiles. As discussed in the Aviationintel piece linked at the bottom of this post, the F-35B would not only allow Taiwan to field 5th generation stealth technology as a deterrent toward Chinese aggression, but it would also allow them to operate off of small concrete pads, less that 1,000′ in length, instead of large stretches of highway which are still vulnerable to ballistic and cruise missile barrages. Further, the F-35B fits Taiwan’s value of sortie generation and survivability over range and offensive punch. This is a no-brainer for the Obama Administration and would be a huge boost for the F-35 program, and especially the troubled B variant.
I do find it strange that Taiwan would decide to wait for the F-35B when the US Government is currently not even willing to clear the sale of new fourth generation F-16s, an aircraft that we even recently sold Pakistan. Adding insult to injury, the comprehensive upgrade package for their existing F-16A/B fleet that the White House insisted on in lieu of new aircraft was originally quoted at costing some $35M+ per aircraft! This did not even include the high price of testing and integrating a new modular AESA radar into their decades old F-16s, a cost that the USAF, who is planning on upgrading their own F-16′s similarly, would love to pass off on the Taiwanese. The Obama Administration is wrong on this, Taiwan should be able to buy anything they ask for that we already export to similar allies. Further, they should be offered a place at the fragile F-35 table if they are willing to pony up and purchase the jets. The White House’s disconnect on this topic blows my mind as their very own shift in strategic focus pretty much dictates the need for our allies in Pacific region to be armed with the latest and greatest exportable US weaponry so that we don’t have to constantly fill the deterrent role vis-a-vis China. Maybe more importantly, by allowing our allies to arm themselves with 5th generation fighters, if things ever heat up in the region America will have a constantly “deployed” force of highly capable aircraft that can fight alongside our air forces instead of behind them, all at no cost to the US taxpayer.
Recent Aviationintel article on the topic: