As part of the government’s program to develop an indigenous defense industry, the Ministry of National Defense said it would complete the upgrade of four F-16 jets next year, making the nation the first to have a fleet of F-16Vs, while the navy is to tender offers for submarine designs from local companies.
Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) is to begin retrofitting the air force’s F-16A/Bs on Jan. 16, and the first four F-16Vs, an upgraded variant of the F-16A/B, would be completed next year, Air Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Fan Ta-wei (范大維) said yesterday at a budget review held by the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
AIDC would complete the upgrade of between 25 and 28 F-16s every year and the air force’s 144 F-16s — including 10 F-16s stationed at a US base — would be completely upgraded by 2023, Fan said.
The air force’s NT$110 billion (US$3.45 billion) Phoenix Rising Project aims to upgrade the F-16A/B fleet to F-16V specification by 2022.
The contracts were awarded to US firm Lockheed Martin Corp, the original producer of the F-16, and AIDC.
The nation lost one F-16A/B in January when it crashed at a US base during a routine training mission, killing the pilot, Major Kao Ting-cheng (高鼎程).
Two F-16s are currently being upgraded by Lockheed Martin in the US and have been fitted with active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar developed for the air force.
The company has completed the first flight of an F-16V equipped with the AESA radar that is able to detect stealth aircraft.
Lockheed Martin is also to oversee the retrofit project being carried out by AIDC in Taiwan.
Lockheed Martin’s work on the upgrade project is ahead of schedule, allowing AIDC to begin its project sooner than expected, Fan said.
In related news, Navy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mei Chia-shu (梅家樹) said the navy on Tuesday is to launch an open tender for the design of a new submarine as the first step toward developing indigenous submarines.
“Only local contractors may join the tender,” Mei said, and the navy plans to sign a contract with the winner next month.
The contractor has to finish the design in three years and it would take an estimated five years to build a prototype, so the first submarine is expected to be delivered in 2024 and put into service by 2025 at the earliest, Mei said.
The navy requested a budget of NT$2.97 billion for the design phase, of which NT$790 million was to be spent in the next fiscal year, but the committee cut the budget by NT$150 million and froze another NT$50 million.
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