Taiwan could push the USA to sell mid-life upgrade kits for its Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fleet this year amid continuing resistance to its request for new F-16C/Ds.
"While Taiwan continues to press the USA about F-16C/Ds, there is a growing feeling within the industry and in Washington and Taipei that it would be politically more feasible to upgrade the older F-16s first," says an industry source.
"The Obama administration could agree to the F-16A/B upgrades this year and delay any discussion of new fighters to either late 2010 or early 2011," says a second source. "This could ensure that bilateral relations with China are not rocked at a time when the economic crisis demands that both countries work closely together."
China has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province since their split in 1949, and has threatened to attack if the island declares independence. Washington, which switched diplomatic ties to Beijing in 1979, is legally obliged to help Taiwan defend itself. However, it has dithered on Taipei's 2001 request to buy 66 F-16C/Ds worth $1.3 billion.
Several companies at this month's Taipei Aerospace and Defence Technology Exhibition were present with a view to the potential business that could emerge from Taiwan's F-16A/B upgrade programme.
Raytheon, for example, was talking about its advanced combat radar, its upgraded AN/ALR-69A (V) radar warning receiver, PAWS-2 infrared missile warning system, and advanced countermeasures electronic system (ACES) early warning suite.
Northrop Grumman was talking about its AN/APG-68(V)9 multi-mode fire control radar, which is suitable for the F-16. ITT showed material about its advanced integrated defensive electronic warfare suite.
At the show, Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation signed an agreement with Pratt & Whitney to manufacture casings for its F-100-229 family of engines. AIDC becomes the sole source of casings for the engines, which will next be used on South Korea's Boeing F-15Ks and Morocco's F-16s.
P&W also believes that the F-100-220 EEP (engine enhancement programme) will be the best option if Taiwan decides to re-engine its older F-16A/Bs, citing its higher thrust of 29,100lb (129kN) and lower operating costs.
"The EEP increases the engine depot inspection interval from 4,300 to 6,000 TACs, effectively extending the typical depot interval from seven to 10 years and providing a 30% lifecycle cost reduction over the life of an [older] F-100-229 engine," says P&W.