Amid China's military buildup across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan is building its own next-generation fighter jets while seeking to acquire the latest fighters from the United States, the island's Defense Ministry said on Thursday.
Wu Pao-kun, director of the ministry's Department of Strategic Planning, told a press conference that the next-generation aircraft must possess stealth characteristics and be capable of short take-offs, without elaborating.
Maj. Gen. Tang Hung-an, head of the air force command's planning division, told the same press conference that the plan to build the next-generation fighters at home is "going as scheduled."
The air force is teaming up with the National Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology and Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. on the project.
The institute unveiled in February 2017 an active electronically scanned array antenna that it said can be used in the radar system of the next-generation planes.
A high-ranking official of the institute told Kyodo News that in addition to the AESA radar, his institute is also working on the aircraft's communication system, flight helmet and radar-absorbent coating.
The institute is also developing the aircraft's motor. The official revealed that a 10-year plan was launched last year to develop the motor of the next-generation fighter jet.
In addition to designing and building its own fighter jets, the ministry is also seeking to acquire next-generation jets from the United States, which is bound by the Taiwan Relations Act to sell Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable the self-ruling island to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.
"We've been holding dialogues with U.S. officials," Wu said.
The ministry confirmed Thursday that it officially requested the United States last week to sell it next-generation fighter jets, without specifying the model or number it seeks to procure.
Deputy Defense Minister Shen Yi-ming dismissed media reports claiming that the ministry intends to spend at least NT$390 billion (US$12.6 billion) on 66 F-16V from the United States, saying the air force is keeping various options on the table.
Tang said "as long as the plane meets our needs and requirements, we'll consider it," adding that the needs for the new jet mainly hinge on the threat from "enemy," referring to China.
The United Daily News reported Thursday that if Washington refuses to budge on the price, the ministry might purchase, or rent, F-15s or F-18s instead.
The F-16 is one of mainstay fighters of Taiwan's air force. The other two are the Indigenous Defense Fighter, or IDF, and the Mirage 2000.
Taiwan previously made an official request to purchase F-16 C/D from the United States, but Washington never replied. Instead, it agreed to upgrade the island's fleet of around 140 F-16A/B to the level of F-16V, with the first batch of four under testing. The air force hopes to upgrade at least 24 annually.