The Wall Street Journal editors insist that the U.S. sell Taiwan advanced F-16s:

The U.S. is bound under the Taiwan Relations Act to sell Taiwan the weapons it needs to defend itself. And there is no doubt that the advanced F-16s requested by Taipei are badly needed. The Chinese military budget has grown nearly 70% over the last five years, and Taiwan is a main target. The island has older F-16s that it bought in 1992, but these are no longer sufficient to maintain air superiority in case of a Chinese attack.

Back in July, Peter Lee of Asia Times spoke with David Shlapak, the author of a RAND study that found that the additional F-16s would make no meaningful difference:

Considering that the current F-16 purchase request would do little more than replace the Reagan-era F5Es, Shlapak commented:

It is difficult to see how a changeout of fighter aircraft can dramatically improve the situation.

An F-16 purchase would make little difference in the all-out war scenario. It would be useful primarily as a demonstration of sustained American resolve to support Taiwan despite the disadvantageous shift of the balance of power in the strait; maintain the ROCAF as a force to be reckoned with; and perhaps play a significant role in a limited conflict – for instance, a scenario in which the PRC doesn’t mount a full-scale attack, but tries to get Taiwan to fold through a blockade.

The WSJ editors’ assessment of the military value of the F-16 sale appears to be badly mistaken. They write:

Preventing the Taiwanese military from catching up with the mainland now could put a future U.S. president in a difficult position. In the case of an attack, he would face the awful decision of whether to sacrifice American lives to defend the island and risk a broader war with China. On the other hand, if the U.S. allowed Taiwan to be swallowed up, American allies everywhere would conclude that U.S. security promises are meaningless.

The F-16s would make this choice less likely, since they would provide Taiwan with the ability to defend itself long enough for the U.S. to resupply it with arms without getting directly involved in the fighting, much as it did for Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

I’ll just quote from this DefenseTech post again:

Actually, RAND did the math on this one in a report last year, in typical RAND style, using sophisticated modeling to simulate a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the 2010–2015 timeframe. RAND’s conclusion was that the addition of a few dozen upgraded F-16s would have little to no impact on the cross-strait balance. In fact, RAND found that in the event of a Chinese attack, “the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the Blue air force has even fired a shot.”

If the F-16s will make no meaningful difference in the event of a Chinese attack, selling them to Taiwan is mostly a symbolic gesture.

P.S. Previous posts on the proposed sale can be found here and here.