Taiwan has officially appropriated NT$250 billion (US$8 billion) for buying 66 F-16V fighter jets from the US, and the money to pay for the single largest arms sale in years from its unofficial ally will come from surplus revenue from previous fiscal years plus government loans, the island’s defense ministry has said.

Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang last week signed off on a bill to budget NT$250 billion for the landmark purchase from Lockheed Martin to boost air defense when China is closing in on the self-ruled island of 23.6 million.

The US Department of State last month approved an arms package to Taiwan including the squadron of F-16 jets in their latest V configuration, plus software patches, spare parts and ancillary systems.

But the sale has to clear the US Congress before the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency officially gazettes it. The process will be completed once the US and Taiwan sign a Letter of Offer and Acceptance.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s defense ministry and top guns involved in marathon negotiations with the US military and defense contractors have been swift in shooting down claims that the F-16s Taiwan will receive have “downgraded specs.”

Instead, the ministry has stressed that Taiwan’s years-long efforts have secured a “bargain price” for the new F-16Vs, putting the cost of a single aircraft at about $121.7 million, the cheapest F-16Vs the US has sold since 2009.

The price that Taiwan has negotiated is said to be less than the average price agreed by Bahrain, Slovakia, Morocco and Bulgaria, who paid about $149 million per jet.

China fly-bys intensify

Liberty Times last week quoted a military source as saying that Taiwan would likely sign the Letter of Offer before the end of 2019 and send it to Washington to finalize the deal. It would take delivery of all 66 jets, in separate batches, no later than 2026.

It is also revealed that the Taiwanese Air Force has sent representatives to lobby the island’s lawmakers to approve the deal when the summer recess ends this month to make sure there are no glitches in the process, even though support for the purchase and its budget cuts across party lines.

The People’s Liberation Army has intensified its fly-bys near Taiwanese airspace, despite an incident in March when two Chinese warplanes strayed across the Taiwan Strait median line, tacitly agreed by Beijing and Taipei as the boundary between the two sides.

The PLA’s East Theater Command just wrapped up a large sea-air drill north of Taiwan in the East China Sea earlier this month.

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