An upgrade of the nation’s fleet of F-16 jets began yesterday, with four of the aircraft flown to a plant in Taichung to undergo retrofitting, the air force said yesterday.
The four warplanes are the first batch to be upgraded to F-16Vs, an enhanced variant of the F-16A/B, of which the nation has a fleet of 144.
The NT$110 billion (US$3.47 billion) Phoenix Rising Project aims to upgrade all the F-16A/Bs to F-16Vs.
Taiwan is to be the first nation worldwide to have a fleet of F-16Vs, which Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) said could match China’s Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter.
Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) and US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin Corp, the original producer of F-16s, were awarded the contract to carry out the upgrades.
Lockheed Martin in 2015 completed the upgrade and test flight of an F-16 owned by Taiwan but stationed at a US Air Force base.
AIDC is responsible for carrying out the retrofitting program in Taiwan, with the first four F-16Vs expected to be upgraded by the end of this year.
The firm refused to disclose the upgrade schedule in detail due to its agreement with Lockheed Martin.
According to Republic of China Air Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Fan Ta-wei’s (范大維) statement at a legislative session in November last year, AIDC is to complete the upgrade of 25 to 28 F-16s every year and the air force’s entire fleet — including 10 F-16s stationed at a US base — will be upgraded by 2023.
The upgraded aircraft are to be fitted with active electronically scanned array fire-control radar — the most important feature of the upgrade — which enables F-16Vs to detect stealth aircraft.
The F-16Vs are also to be equipped with advanced avionics, including a new flight management system and helmet-mounted display system, and the upgraded jets would carry more advanced missiles, such as AIM-9X Sidewinders.
With a radar system on a par with those of fifth-generation fighters, the F-16Vs are expected to shoulder the nation’s air defense for the next two decades.
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