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Taiwan requests US to expedite shipment of F-16s

Taiwan needs F-16s to replace aging fighter jets as threat of military action from China grows

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F-16Vs flying in formation over Taipei on Taiwan's National Day on Oct. 10. 

F-16Vs flying in formation over Taipei on Taiwan's National Day on Oct. 10.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan is asking the U.S. to expedite the delivery of several squadrons of F-16s it ordered in 2019 amid unprecedented incursions by Chinese warplanes in recent weeks.

In 2019, Taiwan placed an US$8 billion order for 66 F-16Vs, which were expected to be delivered in batches over the next 10 years. However, aggressive military actions by China have intensified over the past two years, with an unprecedented incursion of 149 Chinese warplanes taking place in Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) between Oct. 1-4.

On Saturday (Oct. 16), CNN reported that even prior to the early October incursion of 149 Chinese military aircraft, Taiwanese officials had requested the U.S. speed up its delivery of the new fighter jets. According to the report, "the Biden administration had discussed with Taiwanese officials the possibility of expediting the delivery of American-made F-16s to Taiwan."

Shu Hsiao-huang (舒孝煌), an analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, was cited on Saturday by CNA as saying the F-16s could replace the aging F-5 fighters at Taitung's Chihang Air Force Base and could form a new arsenal of jets to intercept Chinese warplanes. Given the F-16 contractor Lockheed Martin does not have many other orders for the aircraft from other countries, it is conceivable the manufacturer could accelerate its production schedule.

Biden took office planning to maintain the U.S. stance of "strategic ambiguity" over whether it would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by PLA forces. However, members of Congress are starting to push Biden to make U.S. policy more decisive with bills such as the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act (TIPA), which was reintroduced in February.

On Oct. 1, during China's national day, a record 38 Chinese military aircraft violated Taiwan's ADIZ, though this mark was quickly surpassed with 39 more People's Liberation Army Aircraft (PLAAF) planes the next day. An additional 16 PLAAF aircraft appeared on Oct. 3, and another record-shattering 56 planes breached the zone on Oct. 4, bringing the four-day total to 149 planes.

When asked to comment about the recent ADIZ incursions on Oct. 6, Taiwan's Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) said the cross-strait situation is the "most serious moment in my 40 years of military service." Chiu predicted that, "By 2025, China's costs and attrition will be brought to the lowest level and it will have the ability to launch a full-scale invasion of Taiwan."

Before a hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee held in March to review the Defense Authorization Request for 2022 and future defense programs, Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned that China's aggressive behavior over the past year appears to show it is accelerating its timeline to "supplant the United States." The admiral warned that he believes a military move against Taiwan could take place by 2027, "In fact, within the next six years."