F-16 Orders to Taiwan at High Risk of Delays, Lawmakers Say

(Bloomberg) -- A group of Republican lawmakers warned that two F-16 fighter jet programs for Taiwan remain at “high risk” of falling further behind despite efforts to accelerate deliveries to bolster the island’s defenses against China.

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In a letter to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall on Friday, the two dozen GOP representatives said they appreciated Biden administration efforts to speed up deliveries but are concerned that past difficulties in completing the production and transfer of F-16s could drag on.

The lawmakers’ concerns have been compounded in recent weeks by questions about whether the competing US military commitments to Ukraine and Israel, as well as Taiwan, are overstretching Washington’s ability to handle multiple conflicts at once.

“As regional security concerns around the world expand, we urge you to focus on delivering the military aid that we have promised to Taiwan,” according to the letter spearheaded by Representative Rob Wittman, vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee. “We cannot afford to over-promise and under-deliver to our closest friends.”

The lawmakers called for Kendall to provide a report by Dec. 18 detailing the status of plans to complete a retrofit program for Taiwan’s 141 existing F-16 fighters, as well as delivery of 66 new F-16 aircraft built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

The signatories include House Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael Turner and Mike Gallagher, chairman of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the US and Chinese Communist Party.

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According to the letter, the delay in the retrofit program is approaching three years due to the lack of availability for key parts. Delivery of the newer jets has been delayed “by over 15 months due to software development complexities not anticipated by the original equipment manufacturer,” the letter said.

First delivery of the new fighters has slipped to between July and September next year from last month, Taiwanese officials said in May. The total sale was supposed to be completed by 2025-2026 but the estimated delivery time line has now moved to 2026-2027, the lawmakers said.

The two F-16 programs constitute $12.7 billion of the total $14.3 billion backlog of military equipment that Taiwan has agreed to purchase from the US since 2019, said the letter. These include Patriot and Stinger air defense and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, heavy torpedoes, and HIMARS mobile rocket systems of the type provided Ukraine.

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A Lockheed Martin spokesperson said in a statement the company “is grateful for the trust Taiwan has placed in us across its F-16 program. In partnership with the U.S. government, Lockheed Martin is focused on developing F-16 capabilities in support of U.S. security cooperation objectives.” It has 126 F-16s on backlog order for other customers at its production facility in Greenville, South Carolina.

A spokesperson for the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The lawmakers praised several Air Force and Taiwan efforts “that are effectively improving” delivery timelines. Taiwan has agreed to a software approach called “spiral development” to shorten delays enabled by Lockheed Martin’s production line “rightly prioritizing Taiwan aircraft,” said the letter.

But they said they remain concerned.

“Given the Defense Department’s historical delays in executing these foreign military sales, the complexity of the F-16’s software integration, and logistical delivery challenges, we still assess the execution of these cases to be high-risk,” Wittman said in a statement to Bloomberg.

The lawmakers said they are willing to work with the Pentagon to ensure timely completion, citing China’s frequent exercises in the waters and airspace around Taiwan.

(Updates in sixth graph with two signatory names and 10th graph with Lockheed comment)

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