Military Aviation

The reason why the US will never sell the F-35 Lightning II to Taiwan

The US has already started deliveries of F-35s to both Japan and South Korea, despite the fact that neither country needs the F-35 nearly as much as Taiwan does.

As we have reported in 2017, Taiwan would welcome the sale of the F-35 stealth fighter.

Back then Taiwan was looking for a fighter with short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) capabilities, hence the need for the “B” variant of the F-35.

Nevertheless, the island never placed an order for the F-35 and the sale of the Lightning II to Taiwan might never materialize, as Zack Lu, an aviation expert, explains on Quora.

‘Never mind the F-35, the US wouldn’t even allow Taiwan to possess the AIM-120 AAM that it already bought and paid for.’

As reported by Taiwan News in fact the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) test-fired an AMRAAM for the first time in Taiwan on May 11, 2021. (The US first agreed to sell 200 AIM-120 missiles to Taiwan in September 2000, but at the time it stored the weapons in Guam. It was not until China acquired the Russian-made Vympel NPO R-77 missile in 2003 that Washington shipped the AMRAAMs to Taiwan. In 2007, the MND purchased 218 more AIM-120s and deployed them in Hualien and Chiayi for its F-16 fleet stationed there.)

The ROCAF first test-fired the AIM-120 at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base in October 2000, while the second time was at an air force base in Arizona in early 2001.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35B Lighning II VMFA-121 Green Knights, VK00, 169164 / 2015

Lu continues;

‘That’s right, the Taiwanese military needed the permission of the US military to test fire a single missile that they bought from the US [more than] 20 years ago.

‘What this tells you should be obvious: the US has zero expectation that Taiwan will hold out against the PLA. 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.

‘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.

‘And before anyone claims that it’s because Taiwan can’t afford it, consider the 66 x F-16V jets for $8 billion USD deal. That’s $121 million per plane; the F-35 costs roughly $80 million a pop for the US to produce at current run rates. If the US really had any hopes for Taiwan to hold out, it would be giving Taiwan F-35s for free.

‘Both Japan and South Korea have expressed interest in the F-35. The US has already started deliveries of F-35s to both countries. This is despite the fact that neither country needs the F-35 nearly as much as Taiwan does. So, it’s not for a lack of need or availability either.’

The US is more than happy to sell F-35s to its Pacific client states, except to those that it expects to be a part of China shortly.

Lu concludes;

‘The US has already been thoroughly disappointed by the Taiwan govt once before. During the Chinese civil war of 1948–49, the US sold and donated billions of dollars of cutting-edge military hardware to the KMT. Most of it ended up in PLA hands by the end of the war.’

American Sherman tank in PLA service, courtesy of the KMT

Photo credit:

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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