The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defence (MND) is reportedly planning to reduce the number of Lockheed Martin-built F-16 C/D fighter jets it had already requested from the US Government, in the wake of budgetary constraints.

According to local media reports, senior ministry officials have informed Washington about a significant reduction in numbers from an original 66 to 24 aircraft during the recently concluded Monterey Talks between the two countries, in the US.

An unidentified authoritative military source was quoted by China Times as saying: "The number of desired F-16 C/Ds has fallen to 24, down from 66 when the Taiwanese delegates put forth the proposal."

Taiwan had initially requested the F-16 sale in 2007, only to be refused by the US, which instead offered to upgrade its fleet of F-16A/B aircraft under a potential $5.85bn deal in September 2011.

The Liberty Times quoted a defence source as saying that the country can hardly afford to purchase a fleet of 66 F-16 C/D fighters, following the costly F-16 A/B upgrade programme.

Ruling Kuomintang party legislator Lin Yu-fang told China Times that the ministry might have slashed the numbers in an effort to keep its options open for the acquisition of fifth generation F-35 Lightning II Joint strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft in the future.

However, defence ministry spokesman major general David Lo denied the reports, saying that the country has not made any such proposal to the US.

Last month saw Taiwan sign the letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) for the commencement of the first phase of the F-16A/B Fighting Falcon jets upgrade programme, which is worth $3.7bn.

Powered by a single Pratt & Whitney F-100-GE-129 turbofan engine, the F-16 C/D is an upgraded variant of F-16, featuring improved cockpit avionics, radars and all-weather capability with beyond-visual-range (BVR) AIM-7 and AIM-120 air-air missiles.

Image: A US Air Force’s F-16C Fighting Falcon conducting a training mission over North Carolina, US. Photo: courtesy of SMSgt Thomas Meneguin.