The war of words between the system integrators and radar houses that are chasing the F-16 upgrade market intensified here this week. With 3,500 Fighting Falcons still flying, at least one-third of which might be upgraded, the stakes are high. Here in Singapore, BAE Systems Inc. and Raytheon are hoping that the local Ministry of Defence will entertain their rival proposals for a contract that could be worth almost $2.5 billion, and consider them above the solution offered by Lockheed Martin (LM) and Northrop Grumman (NG).
Republic of China Air Force
Singapore’s intention to upgrade its fleet of about 60 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighters was indicated by a recent notification to Congress by the Pentagon. But no choice has yet been made between rival upgrade systems integrators BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. According to the notification, the upgrade will cost Singapore an estimated $2.43 billion, although this total also includes three new weapons.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou ceremonially welcomed the first Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft at Pingtung airbase on October 31. Three days later, the island’s first six Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters arrived from the U.S. by sea. Neither event was publicized by the U.S. government or the contractors, no doubt because of concern that mainland China would react adversely.
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.
Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou renewed his nation’s plea to the U.S. for more F-16s, citing China’s recent unveiling of the J-20 stealth fighter. Ma spoke after witnessing an air defense exercise that involved the launch of 19 missiles, including indigenous Tien Chien (Sky Sword) AAMs and Tien Kung (Sky Bow) SAMs. The new ground-launched version of the Tien Chien was also fired.
China has threatened to impose sanctions against the U.S. companies whose equipment forms part of a controversial new arms package for Taiwan that was announced last Friday. They include Boeing and Sikorsky, who enjoy brisk sales
to China of airliners and civilian helicopters, respectively.
Taiwan’s Aero Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) is bidding to achieve Tier 1 supplier status with the major aerospace OEMs. It is building the Taiwan Advanced Composites Center (TACC), a 538,000-sq-ft facility that will contain large new autoclaves, ply cutters and computer-controlled milling machines. AIDC already produces smaller composite parts, such as the co-cured frames for the cockpit of Sikorsky’s S-92 helicopter.
AIDC’s modernization program for the F-CK-1 Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF)–also known as the Ching-kuo–is nearing the end of its latest development period. Phase I of the development test and evaluation campaign came to an end in 2007, and Phase II should draw to a close by the end of this year.
Mainland China is increasing the pressure on Taiwan’s air defenses. Modernized with more than 250 J-11 fighters (Russian or license-built Sukhoi Su-27/30) and 50 Chinese-designed J-10 interceptors, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is flying combat air patrols up to the middle of the Taiwan Straits. This has been the unofficial dividing line between China and Taiwan for more than 50 years.
After a visit to China last month, the commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, Admiral Timothy Keating, suggested that Beijing’s growing military might was aimed specifically at Taiwan. China has threatened to invade Taiwan if it should declare independence. Ahead of Taiwanese presidential elections and a controversial referendum, political tension across the 90-mile Taiwan Straits that divide the two territories remains high.
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