Taiwan has upgraded 42 of its 141 F-16A/B jets to the F-16V variant, which can “detect enemies earlier and have a longer striking range,” air force Chief of Staff Huang Chih-wei (黃志偉) said on Wednesday.
The upgraded jets would be given to the Fourth Tactical Fighter Wing, making it the first air force unit in the nation to be entirely comprised of the more advanced jets, Huang told a legislative session in Taipei when questioned by lawmakers about progress in the F-16 upgrade project.
A formal handover ceremony would be held at the end of this month, with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as a special guest, Huang said.
In 2016, the air force launched a program to upgrade all its F-16A/Bs to F-16Vs, which are equipped with more advanced avionics, including the APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar, helmet-mounted cueing system, and other flight management and electronic warfare systems.
State-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp and the US-based defense firm Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the jets, were commissioned to complete the program before 2023, at an estimated cost of NT$110 billion (US$3.86 billion).
Huang told legislators that the F-16V has all of Taiwan’s airspace within its striking range.
In addition to the retrofitted jets, Taiwan has purchased 66 new F-16Vs from the US, with delivery expected to start in 2023.
Asked about the air force’s planned operational expenses in the face of increased harassment by the Chinese military, Huang said an additional NT$2.1 billion has been allocated for this year, which “should be enough.”
Last year, the air force spent NT$30 billion to intercept Chinese military planes that entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, according to data provided by legislators.
Huang told lawmakers that it costs about NT$150,000 per hour to deploy an F-16 in such situations, NT$220,000 for an Indigenous Defense Fighter and NT$200,000 for a P-3C marine patrol aircraft.
Separately yesterday, asked about tensions in the South China Sea, Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) told the hearing that Taiwan has no plans to bolster its presence on Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) by deploying marines there.
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