Republic of China Air Force F-16 Fighter Jet
Republic of China Air Force F-16 Fighter Jet

Taiwan Unveils F-16 Maintenance Hub As China Tensions Grow

Following the U.S. Departemen of Defense’s Aug. 14 announcement of 90 advanced F-16 fighter jet sales from U.S. aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin, there are media reports that Taiwan was one of the buyers, finalizing a 10-year deal of US$62 billion for 66 jets. This deal would take the Taiwan’s F-16 fleet to more than 200 jets, the largest in Asia. The Republic of China (Taiwan’s formal name) President Tsai Ing-wen launched a U.S.-backed maintenance centre for the island’s fleet of upgraded F-16 fighters amid rising tensions between Taipei and Beijing. Frequent Chinese and U.S. military exercises in the region are raising fears of conflict touched off by a crisis over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory.

The facility is the result of an agreement between Taiwan’s state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) and F-16 manufacturer Lockheed Martin last December. The island nation’s Air Force has 142 F-16 fighter jets being upgraded, and it has bought 66 more advanced F-16 “Vipers” from the U.S. to supplement them. The largest operator of F-16s in the region, Taiwan hopes the maintenance center can attract business from other air forces. South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia own between 33 and 180 F-16 jets each might eventually become a Lockheed Martin customer. The lower cost of maintenance and repair work in Taiwan compared to the U.S. was a key factor in the decision to set up the center.

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Taiwan is a major F-16 customer, although it has placed only a single order for the aircraft. In 1992, 150 F-16A/B-20 aircraft were ordered while at the same time Taiwan ordered 60 Dassault Mirage 2000 and launched its own indigenous fighter program, the AIDC Ching-Kuo. Delivery of all F-16s was completed in 2001. Taiwan’s foreign military sales program is known as PEACE FENGHUANG (Peace Phoenix). The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF), needing a next generation fighter to replace its fleet of F-5s, has expressed interest in the new F-35 Lightning II. However, due to political issues, it is unlikely it will be able to acquire such an advanced fighter in the near future.

The Republic of China Air Force has opted for up to 66 new F-16C/D Block50/52 as its interim replacement fighter. As with all military purchases, Beijing has expressed opposition to the sale. However Obama agreed to a $5.3 billion deal to upgrade Taiwan’s current fleet of F-16 A/B Block 20s to configuration similar to that of the proposed F-16V standard with AESA radars. Upgrades for the first four fighters will be completed in 2018, with all fighters upgraded by 2023. In 2019, Taiwan received its first F-16V. In August 2019, the Trump administration approved the sale of up to 66 new F-16 Block 70 worth up to $8 billion to Taiwan.

Republic of China Air Force F-16 Fighter Jet
Republic of China Air Force F-16 Fighter Jet (Photo ROCAF)
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