By Lieven Dewitte
The Biden administration is reportedly negotiating with Vietnam on the sale of an arms package featuring a fleet of F-16 fighter jets, in a move that could irk China and sideline Russia.
Washington and Hanoi are in talks on a deal for the largest-ever transfer of military equipment between the former Cold War adversaries. The armaments package that the U.S. would seek to sell to Vietnam would include a fleet of F-16 fighter jets, as well as their associated weaponry and equipment.
The deal is still in its early stages, with exact terms yet to be finalized, and may not come to fruition. But it was a key topic of official Vietnam-U.S. talks in Hanoi, New York and Washington over the past month.
The Russia-Ukraine war is making it harder for Vietnam to acquire weapons from its longstanding arms supplier Russia. The tensions between China and Vietnam because of overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea is another reason Vietnam could consider acquiring the US warplanes.
The arrival of the U.S. fighters would allow the Vietnam People’s Air Force to strengthen and modernize its capabilities, as it currently has about 40 Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30MK2 heavy fighters, which are its main air defense assets, and about 30 older Su-22 attack fighters, which the F-16s could replace.
In June 2015, the Vietnamese air force already showed interest in acquiring European and U.S. aircraft as part of its ongoing modernisation. Possible candidates included the Typhoon, Rafale, F-16 and Saab Gripen E/F.
Last year Vietnam already reached an agreement with the United States to acquire 12 Beechcraft T-6 Texan II trainer aircraft.
The Biden administration is now even considering the possibility of structuring especially favorable financing conditions for Vietnam to be able to afford the purchase and operation of the new US weapons systems, which would imply a heavy investment in the modernization and adaptation of the Vietnamese military infrastructure, as well as a significant doctrinal change for its Armed Forces.