Taiwan is close to completing a combat assessment of the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D, but the island's long-awaited F-X fighter competition remains stalled partly due to funding problems caused by domestic political issues. The acquisition, along with a long-planned purchase of Lockheed P-3C maritime patrol aircraft, is likely to be among key spending priorities in the coming years, says an official from the defence ministry.

The Taiwanese cabinet last week approved a proposed 2007 defence budget of NT$323.5 billion ($9.9 billion), representing an increase of NT$71 billion - or 28.1% - over this year's total. To account for 18.7% of Taiwan's national budget, much of the 2007 defence allocation would be used to buy US-made weapon systems as part of the island's efforts to boost its defence capability against China, the ministry says. However, its proposal could run into problems with the legislative body, which has yet to approve the budget.

"Part of the problem is the political deadlock in Taiwan. Some opposition members of congress could block the spending increases," says an industry source. "We need to start making progress on these plans, which have been stalled for some time," says the defence ministry official. "The political problems should not affect military programmes that are essential for Taiwan."

It is unclear whether the requested extra funds would help Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), which is offering a weapon system upgrade to the air force's Ching-Kuo Indigenous Defence Fighter. An AIDC source says work on two prototypes is likely to start in October, with the modified aircraft - which will also feature increased fuel capacity - to be available for service introduction around 2010.

Source: Flight International