The Taiwanese Air Force took delivery on October 20 of the first of its upgraded F-16 jet fighters from state-owned aviation company Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC). The revamped F-16 V standard (“Viper”) fighter is the first of what will be four units re-delivered to the Taiwanese Air Force by years end.
The comprehensive, five-year program to retrofit and upgrade Taiwan’s 144 legacy F-16 A- and B-standard fighters to the latest V configuration is expected to run through 2023 and cost between TWD110 billion ($3.68 billion) and TWD130 billion ($4.2 billion).
The Viper configured F-16 features an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, an embedded GPS/inertial navigation system, a Terma ALQ-213 electronic warfare management system, Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder and Paveway guided bombs, Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), and Textron Sensor-Fuzed Weapons.
The F-16 forms the centerpiece of Taiwan’s combat aircraft inventory, which also features 126 F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs), 56 Dassault Mirage 2000s and 58 Northrop F-5 Tigers.
While the size of the Taiwanese Air Force fighter fleet is substantial, two worries persist.
First is the size of the fleet in comparison to the more than 2,300 combat aircraft operated by strategic rival China, which lurks just 110 nautical miles across the sea.
While the quantitative gap is significant, Taiwan’s eroding qualitative edge is the principal concern. The Taiwanese fighter fleet is showing signs of aging, with the most recent models being the IDFs (deliveries of which were completed in 2000) and the F-16s (the last of which arrived in 1999).
With the entire fleet of Mirage 2000s and 45 F-5s set to be retired between 2017 and 2022 due to their high maintenance costs, the Taiwanese fleet will shrink. Possibility of an export order is diminished by the diplomatic blowback a supplier country would suffer from China should a contract agreement for advanced fighters be executed.
Thus the F-16 upgrade is considered not only practical, but crucial to maintaining a deterrent edge in Taiwan’s combat airpower capability.