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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

U.S. To Sell Taiwan 66 F-16 Fighters

Tue, 18 Jul 2006, 00:12

The United States has agreed to sell Taiwan 66 advanced fighter jets to counter China’s continued arms build-up, it was reported July 17.

A Taiwanese delegation proposed the procurement of the fleet of F-16C/D fighters during an annual military meeting with Washington early this month, the China Times said.

”The United States has given its nod over the sales of 66 F-16C/D Block 52s for at least 100 billion Taiwan dollars ($3.1 billion),” the paper said, without naming a source.

If the report is confirmed, it would be the biggest arms deal Washington has offered Taiwan since 2001 when U.S. President George W. Bush agreed to provide the island with eight diesel-powered submarines, 12 P-3C submarine-hunting aircraft and an improved version of Patriot missiles, the paper said.

Taiwan’s defense ministry declined to comment on the report.
The new planes aim to reinforce the air force’s combat capability before it can acquire so-called “third generation” fighters from the United States, the paper said.

The United States in 1992 agreed to sell Taiwan 150 less sophisticated F-16A/Bs, but refused to provide F-16C/Ds which have a longer range and powerful ground attack capability.

In addition to 146 F-16A/B fighters, the air force has 128 locally-produced Indigenous Defense Fighters and 56 French-made Mirage 2000-5s, along with 60 or so aging F-5 Tigers.

President Chen Shui-bian has pledged gradually to increase military spending to around three percent of gross domestic product, up from 2.5 percent currently.

China has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan should it move towards formal independence, prompting the island to seek more advanced weaponry.

China announced in March its military budget for this year would rise 14.7 percent to $35 billion, the latest in a series of double-digit annual increases dating back to the early 1990s.

A Pentagon report last year estimated that China’s defense spending was two to three times the publicly announced figure and that the cross-strait military balance was tipping in Beijing’s favor.

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