Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Taipei Times - Taiwan may abandon F-16 for F-35

Given the criticism of the F-35 and the claims of unheard of cost, one would be understandably puzzled about this post's title.  The F-16?  The critics choice to keep and upgrade for the future?

What is Taiwan thinking?

Quite simply, Taiwan is taking a look at the future, and it is not finding upgraded 4th generation aircraft to be a bargain:
Senior military officers may be considering abandoning a long-stalled bid to procure F-16C/D aircraft from the US because of rising costs and could instead reserve budgets for an eventual F-35B bid, reports said yesterday.
The Ministry of National Defense maintains that the air force remains committed to acquiring 66 F-16C/Ds, but the rising costs associated with the package — now estimated at US$10 billion, from an initial US$8 billion, according to local reports — added to the about US$3.7 billion it expects to pay for upgrades to the nation’s 145 F-16A/Bs, could be shifting the argument in favor of abandoning the bid for the new aircraft.

What has caused Taiwan to reconsider?  The $10 billion deal for 42 F-35s just made with Japan and reality:
Any future purchase of aircraft by Taiwan should be “pragmatic,” it said, adding that even if Taiwan spent the almost US$15 billion required to purchase new F-16C/Ds and upgrade its F-16A/Bs and F-CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighters, the air force would still be a generation behind the aircraft that are being developed and deployed by China.
Taiwan doesn't have the luxury of hoping its aging fleet of fighter aircraft will do the job of protecting the island from China.  Taiwan has to take positive steps to ensure, as much as it can, that it is able to field the best defense.

The politics of this notwithstanding, it points out that in many other countries, those that make the decisions are doing their homework and not just taking the critics word for cost.  They are doing their own numbers and they're coming to the same conclusion that the Lexington Institute reached when it compared 5th generation jet costs to keeping, upgrading and maintaining 4th generation aircraft.  In a simple cost comparison, the 5th gen fighters come out of such an analysis as a relative bargain.  Add to that the increases in capability and survivability generated by cutting edge technology, and the bargain becomes even sweeter.


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