Despite its recent Isolationist approach to global issues, Washington is re-engaging the Indo-Pacific; Lockheed Martin – the US-based world’s biggest weapons manufacturer – will be selling 66 F-16 Vipers to Taiwan -Beijing’s principal bugbear.
Taipei is estimated to pay to USD $ 8.1 Bn for the 66 fighters, according to Taiwan News. The island country is upgrading its fighter fleet which among others comprises 142 F-16V and will be getting the additional 66 fighters from Lockheed Martin by the end of 2028. Taipei, on its part, projected the deal as a “win as win” situation for the country. Each of the 66 fighters will cost about $ 121.7 million- the cheapest F16Vs the US has sold since 2009, the Asia Time reported quoting Defence Minstry officials of Taiwan.
Is the fighter sale likely to further impact US-China relations?
The sale of fighters to Taiwan is likely to further ruffle the already shaky relationship between the United States of America and China which are locked in a trade-war. The US, so far, has imposed tariffs on more than $360bn (£268bn) of Chinese goods. China in retaliated with tariffs on more than $110bn of US products. US has accused China of unfair trade practices whereas Beijing perceives US action as measures to prevent its rise as a global economic power. And, although negotiations between the two countries are on and a preliminary deal announced some of the thorniest issues are yet to be resolved. Uncertainty over the trade war is weighing down the global economy.
Earlier this year, the US Department of Defence in its report Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019 to the US Congress highlighted the Chinese preoccupation with Taiwan. It said, “Taiwan contingency,” remains “the PLA’s main strategic direction.”
For Taiwan, the extra fleet of F-16 V is important because the use of force on Taiwan is within Beijing’s declared strategy. “China’s overall strategy toward Taiwan continues to incorporate elements of both persuasion and coercion to hinder the development of political attitudes in Taiwan favouring independence,” the US DoD report on China states.
And although China advocates a peaceful unification with Taiwan, it has “never renounced the use of military force, and continues to develop and deploy advanced military capabilities needed for a potential military campaign,” the US DoD report on China observedTaiwan continues to be one of the “geographic areas” the leadership in Beijing identifies as having “strategic importance”. Others include “the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and China’s borders with India and North Korea,” the US DoD report has highlighted.
F-16V is a potent platform.
The Viper or F-16 V – is the latest variant of the F-16 is a fourth-generation, multi-role, fighter aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin. It comprises upgrade package and has interoperability with the 5th -generation fighters like the F-35. The Viper can be deployed for air superiority, destruction of enemy air defences air-to-ground and air-to-air combat and also for deep maritime missions. The Viper is capable of locating targets in all weather conditions and for the user flying a Viper is cheaper. The US Air Force (USAF) awarded a foreign military sales (FMS) contract to Lockheed Martin for the upgrade of 134 F-16 aircraft based on the F-16V configuration in November 2016. In June 2018, the US defence manufacturing giant, Lockheed Martin received a $1.12bn contract from the US Government for the development of 16 F-16 Block 70 aircraft for the Royal Bahraini Air Force. Bahrain was the first customer to procure the new version of F-16, which has advanced avionics, AESA radar, and advanced weapon systems. In addition, Lockheed Martin will also be selling eight F-16 V to Bulgaria under the Foreign Military Sale route. The deal was been cleared by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).