In a first, US may sell fleet of F - 35 to deter China

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WASHINGTON - Two top American senators have urged President Donald Trump to sell F-35 fighter jet to Taiwan so that the small island nation can defend itself from China.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is believed to have requested the purchase of the F-35B vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft to bolster Taiwan's air defence. "Taiwan has a legitimate requirement to field a modern fighter fleet to address a myriad of defence contingencies. Therefore, Taiwan is requesting US support in their procurement of the F-35B," Senators James M Inhofe and John Cornyn wrote in a letter to Trump. After years of military modernisation, China shows the ability to wage war against Taiwan for the first time since the 1950s, they said.

These fighters will have a positive impact on Taiwan's self-defence and would act as a necessary deterrent to China's aggressive military posture across the Asia-Pacific region, the senators said."

The survivability of the F-35B and modern long-range sensors could help Taiwan intercept Chinese missiles, promoting deterrence well into the next decade. The F-35B would not only provide a modern fifth-generation fighter, but would also bolster their capabilities in next-generation warfare," the letter said.

However, if determined that release of the F-35B to Taiwan is premature, the two Senators hoped that Trump will instead make available additional F-16Vs to address the "quantitative and qualitative challenges confronting Taiwan's fighter fleet".

Taiwan already fields the F-16, and this would represent a cost-effective solution to Taiwan's legitimate defense requirement for additional fighters, they said. "If Taiwan's air defence fleet is allowed to degenerate in number and quality, I am concerned that it would be destabilising and would encourage Chinese aggression to ensue.

Additionally, I am concerned that Taiwan's military weakness and the inability to mount a credible air force would place an undue burden on forward-deployed US forces in North East Asia," the letter said.

In 1993, the US sold Taiwan 150 F-16s to bolster its air defences, ensuring that Taiwan pilots flew US-made fighters to defend Taiwan's sovereign airspace.

"Those F-16s have been the backbone of Taiwan's air force for over 20 years," the senators wrote. Taiwan currently has approximately 144 F-16 fighters in its inventory; 15 are in the US for training, and an additional 24 will be offline on a rolling basis in their ongoing upgrade program that runs through 2023.

"At a reasonable operational rate, Taiwan is likely able to field only 65 F-16s at any given time in defense of the island. In my opinion, this is not enough to maintain a credible defense," Cornyn and Inhofe wrote. PTI LKJ CHT

Washington