Monday, February 22, 2010

Airing Taiwan's Deficiencies

The Defense Department has concluded that Taiwan's air defenses are in dire need of modernization:

The DIA report, dated Jan. 21, says Taiwan's 60 U.S.-made F-5 fighters have reached the end of their operational service, and its 126 locally produced Indigenous Defense Fighter aircraft lack "the capability for sustained sorties."

Taiwan's 56 French-made Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets, the report says, "are technologically advanced, but they require frequent, expensive maintenance that adversely affects their operational readiness rate."

The report notes some of Taiwan's 146 F-16 A/Bs may receive improvements focusing on avionics and combat effectiveness, but says "the extent of the upgrades, and timing and quantity of affected aircraft is currently unknown."

Taiwan's new F-16 request is for the C/D model of the plane, which is considered a substantial improvement on the A/Bs.
Hopefully, this pushes an agreement for the sale of later model F-16s.

But more broadly, the issue of air power isn't just the planes. Taiwan needs good pilots. Taiwan needs good maintenance to keep sortie rates up. Taiwan needs hardened aircraft shelters and capabilities to rapidly repair runways. Taiwan needs radars and air defense missiles and command and control capabilities to wage an air campaign. Taiwan needs sufficient ammunition to arm those planes for weeks on end of high intensity combat.

Back to the issue at hand, it is also clear that the sale of even 60 or so newer F-16s won't repair just the narrow issue of Taiwan's aircraft inventory. Nearly 250 of Taiwan's fighter aircraft cannot participate in a sustained manner in an aerial campaign to defend the island.

Taiwan needs a sustained defense build-up to reverse the rate of decline in the years ahead and then start pushing the balance in the air and at sea back towards Taiwan in the decades ahead.

So even if we sell Taiwan the requested F-16s, Taiwan needs to buy many more modern fighter aircraft. I still think the Taiwanese should explore Russian sales of modern fighters to supplement their American-made planes.