Cornyn Asks White House for Plan to Address Taiwan’s Aging Air Force

Today, I sent a letter to President Obama requesting a clear plan from the Administration for addressing Taiwan’s aging and inadequate fleet of fighter jets. This letter follows yesterday’s hearing to consider the nomination of Mark W. Lippert, a former aide to President Obama, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

Background

Sen. Cornyn along with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have introduced the Taiwan Airpower Modernization Act of 2011, which will help bring the United States into compliance with its legal obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 to provide Taiwan with the military equipment it needs to maintain its self-defense capabilities. In September Senate Democrats blocked an amendment to mandate the Obama Administration to sell at least 66 new F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan.

Several recent letters to the President have demonstrated overwhelming bipartisan congressional support for the sale of new F-16C/Ds to Taiwan, and a recent study done by a private consulting firm estimates that the sale of 66 new F-16 aircraft to Taiwan would generate approximately $8.7 billion in economic output and nearly 88,000 ‘person-years’ of employment across the U.S.

Full text of the letter is below:

November 18, 2011

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

I write today to express serious concern over the continuing deterioration of Taiwan’s air force and your Administration’s clear failure to comply with its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which requires the U.S. to provide Taiwan the defense articles necessary to enable Taiwan to defend itself.

Taiwan’s air force is both shrinking in size and nearly obsolete, while China’s military capabilities are growing at an alarming rate. As a result, the current cross-Strait balance of airpower now tips sharply in China’s favor. China has 2,300 operational combat aircraft, while our democratic ally Taiwan has only 490, according to the Defense Department. Moreover, Taiwan remains squarely in the crosshairs of China’s massive military buildup. The DoD, in its 2011 report on China’s military capabilities, observed that China’s air force will remain primarily focused on “building the capabilities required to pose a credible military threat to Taiwan and U.S. forces in East Asia.”

I remain disappointed by your de facto denial of Taiwan’s request to purchase 66 new F-16C/D fighter aircraft, and I believe it sends a damaging message to nations in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond that the U.S. is willing to abandon our friends in the face of Communist China’s intimidation tactics. This is a dangerous state of affairs for both Taiwan and the U.S. Understandably, your decision to withhold from Taiwan the military assistance it needs most has been interpreted by many as a sign of China's growing international clout and America's relative strategic decline in the Western Pacific region.

It is clear that Taiwan’s air force suffers from both quantitative and qualitative deficiencies. I support your decision to sell Taiwan the package of upgrades to its existing fleet of 145 F-16A/B aircraft, but that modest step addresses only the qualitative problem. Regrettably, it does nothing to address the more serious, quantitative problem – Taiwan’s looming fighter shortfall. In short, Taiwan’s fleet of fighter aircraft will rapidly shrink in size over the coming decade, potentially falling to as few as 145 fighter jets by 2020, and your current plan fails to prevent that from happening.

Shortly after your Administration announced the F-16 A/B upgrade package, I wrote to President Ma to ask him for clarification on Taiwan’s military requirement for new F-16C/Ds. On Oct. 14, I received an unequivocal response, stating that Taiwan needs both the upgraded F-16A/Bs and the new F-16C/Ds to fulfill its “self-defense needs in qualitative and quantitative terms.” The sale of new F-16C/Ds to Taiwan also has the backing of 47 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and 181 Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives who this past year have sent letters of support to your Administration.

In your recent speech to the Australian Parliament, you stated that "The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay." I applaud this rhetoric, but it will ring hollow unless it is followed by meaningful action, such as supporting our longtime friend Taiwan by providing it the defensive weaponry it has sought to purchase from us for over five years.

America’s credibility in the Asia-Pacific region is at risk, and our policy towards Taiwan is symbolic of our overall position and influence there. Many of China’s neighbors, including U.S. allies, are rightly concerned about China’s military buildup and territorial ambitions. U.S. allies around the world, including Israel, are paying close attention to how the U.S. treats Taiwan. The U.S. should neither give in to intimidation and threats from China, nor should we cede regional leadership there. We must not abandon the free people of Taiwan and our longstanding strategic interest in the stability of East Asia.

The issue of F-16 sales to Taiwan is especially pertinent in light of the Senate’s consideration of your nomination of Mark W. Lippert to serve as the next Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. I hope to be able to support the confirmation of this nominee. However, I ask that you decide on a near-term course of action to address Taiwan’s looming fighter shortfall, and provide me with the specific actions you intend to take. Thank you for your prompt attention to this serious security matter.

Sincerely,

JOHN CORNYN
United States Senator

 

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