The Lockheed Martin F-35 is a very popular fighter platform that is often sold by the U.S. to allied nations, through the Foreign Military Sales program. Recently, nations such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Israel are all part of the F-35 joint strike fighter program.
One nation that hasn’t ever received F-35s is Taiwan. Aviation Geek Club reported back in April of 2017 that the then-new Trump Administration was planning to sell fighter aircraft, including F-35s, to Taiwan, something that previous administrations had not ever done. The Obama Administration had sold weapons to Taiwan, but not fighter jets or submarines.
In 2018, The Diplomat reported that the Taiwanese defense ministry continued to be interested in acquiring F-35s from the U.S.
“The air force’s operational requirements dictate that the next generation of fighters must possess stealth characteristics, be short take-off capable and be able to fight beyond visual range,” the minister said in May of 2018. “The F-35 is a fine fighter and we are seeking it.”
The Trump Administration, its well-known posture towards China notwithstanding, never went through with the Taiwan fighter jet sales.
Aviation expert Zack Lu, who is based in Hong Kong, explained in a recent Quora answer that such a sale is unlikely. He pointed to the sale, in 2000, of 200 AIM-120 missiles to Taiwan. It took three years after that for the missiles to actually be shipped.
“What this tells you should be obvious: the US has zero expectation that Taiwan will hold out against the [Chinese People’s Liberation Army]. It just assumes that everything sold to Taiwan will eventually end up in PLA hands. This is why it refused to deliver the AIM-120 missiles until the PLA possessed their own missiles that were just as good,” Lu wrote.
“That’s not to say that the US won’t sell weapons to Taiwan. Just in the past 12 months it’s sold to Taiwan the M1A2 MBT, M109 SPA, and F-16V fighter jet, but these are all current generation or last generation equipment. The PLA will gain little tech knowledge when reverse engineering these pieces after Taiwan has capitulated. By contrast, the F-35 is too cutting edge to be forked over to the PLA, thus the US won’t export it to Taiwan.”
Lu added that it’s not that Taiwan can’t afford the F-35s.
“If the US really had any hopes for Taiwan to hold out, it would be giving Taiwan F-35s for free,” he added. He compared it to the Chinese civil war in 1949, which ended with the Communists in charge of China and the previous Chinese government in Taiwan.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.