The Obama administration decided against selling 66 new F-16s to Taiwan, notifying the U.S. Congress instead of a planned $5.3 billion upgrade of the island nation’s existing F-16 fleet to include active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and other new systems. While the decision was widely characterized as an appeasement to Beijing, the Chinese government nevertheless blasted the fleet upgrade, saying it “severely violates” diplomatic understandings, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Taiwan’s request for new F-16C/Ds dates to 2006. In addition to bolstering the island’s defense against Chinese fourth-generation fighters, the order was considered important to extending Lockheed Martin’s F-16 production line in Fort Worth, Texas. The company in August said its F-16 backlog stood at 58 aircraft, sustaining production until mid-2013. However, the backlog was boosted by 18 last week, when the long-mooted sale of F-16C/Ds to Iraq was finally confirmed.
The administration’s proposed retrofit of 145 older F-16A/Bs operated by the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) would effectively bring the aircraft to C/D standard. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s notification to Congress, the transaction would include 176 AESA radars, embedded GPS/inertial navigation systems, new or upgraded electronic countermeasures pods, upgraded Sniper or Litening targeting pods, joint helmet-mounted cueing systems and tactical data-link terminals. Weapons would include AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, JDAM bomb guidance kits and laser-guided munitions.
The requirement for an AESA pits Northrop Grumman’s scalable agile beam radar (SABR) against Raytheon’s advanced combat radar (RACR), both drop-in upgrades for the F-16. At the recent Air Force Association conference in National Harbor, Md., Dave Wallace, Northrop Grumman manager of F-16 sensor development, said SABR modes are starting to be replaced with modes from the AN/APG-81 AESA radar developed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and newer modes have been flown on the AN/APG-80 AESA radar equipped on UAE F-16E/F Block 60 aircraft. SABR, the first retrofit AESA radar to fly on an F-16 in 2009, has a “maturity level unprecedented for a radar that has yet to be sold,” Wallace said.
Taiwan’s government immediately reacted to the decision by confirming that the island’s Aero Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) would upgrade a further 56 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs) that fly in one ROCAF fighter wing. The estimated cost is $530 million. The upgrade of 71 IDFs that equip another fighter wing is already under way. It includes a new mission computer and software that frees the aircraft from U.S.-designed and controlled source code.