The first prototype of the F-16V series. Photo: Lockheed Martin
The first prototype of the F-16V series. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The Taiwanese Air Force has just received the first revamped Lockheed Martin F-16 “Viper” jet fighter, with three more tipped to join the island’s F-16 fleet by the end of the year.

The F-16V features retrofits and enhancements including an active electronically scanned array radar, a new modular mission computer and improvements to the cockpit with multi-target engagement capability.

The retrofitted fighters will have a helmet-mounted cue system, which can be linked to AIM-9X Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles and will enable pilots to actually see and shoot at targets.

The Taiwanese military is the first customer to get the F-16V after the self-governed island set aside NT$129.6 billion (US$4.2 billion) out of its tight defense budget to upgrade its existing 144 F-16A/B fighters to the latest configuration. The program will span five years until 2023, with 20 to 24 jets to be outfitted each year.

Taiwan bought its first F-16 in 1992 and the jets now make up the bulwark of the island’s air force against threats from the People’s Liberation Army on the opposite side of the Taiwan Strait.

The first F-16V received on Saturday underwent hardware and software upgrades in June, and was first spotted by aviation enthusiasts after it began flight tests in Texas at the end of August.

Revelations about the plane’s progress drew concern from the island’s defense ministry and Lockheed Martin and were followed by an immediate probe to identify the leak, according to the Taipei Times.

The paper also noted that most of the F-16V jets would be repainted at the Shueishang air base in southern Chiayi county and the Sincheng base in Hualien county, with tight anti-espionage measures in place to keep the upgraded fighters away from Chinese spies.

Regional maintenance base also planned

Meanwhile, Taiwan also hopes that the creation of an indigenous center for F-16s will make the island a base for F-16 maintenance in the Asia-Pacific, as air forces in Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and Singapore have considerable fleets of the supersonic multirole aircraft.

A defense official revealed that Taiwan and Lockheed Martin had agreed to prioritize the development of an indigenous depot-level maintenance and repair center for F-16s. The aim would be to meet the F-16Vs’ maintenance needs, as opposed to shipping them back to the US for major repairs.

Taiwan in May began the initial evaluation for building an F-16 sustainment support center, with a total investment projected at US$500 million.

It is understood that Lockheed Martin will transfer aircraft logistical management techniques to the Chungshan Institute under Taiwan’s defense ministry for the F-16 maintenance center.

Read: F-16V to beef up Taiwan’s air defense against China’s J-20