MELBOURNE, Australia — Taiwan officially commissioned its upgraded Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighter jets into service, with a ceremony at an airbase on its west coast on Wednesday.
The commissioning ceremony at Chiayi Airbase was attended by Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen, who said the F-16 upgrade project showed the firm commitment of the Taiwan-U.S. partnership.
The ceremony saw the inauguration of the first fighter wing of Taiwan’s Republic of China Air Force of ROCAF that have been fully equipped with the upgraded jets, which are designated the F-16V.
Chiayi is the home of the ROCAF’s 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, comprised of the 21st, 22nd and 23rd Tactical Fighter Groups. The 21st Tactical Fighter Group is the unit that has fully converted to the F-16V, with the ROCAF saying the service has 64 upgraded fighters already in its inventory.
This is out of a force of 141 F-16s, which are the survivors of 150 aircraft delivered in the late 1990s comprised of a mix of F-16A single-seat and F-16B twin-seat Block 20 aircraft.
The upgrade, known as the Phoenix Rising program, includes the installation of Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 scalable agile beam radar, a new mission computer and upgraded electronic warfare equipment like the Terma AN/ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management systems.
Other upgraded systems include the Rockwell Collins-Elbit Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, which allows off-boresight targeting of adversary aircraft during air combat, and a newer identification friend-or-foe system.
Taiwan’s F-16 upgrade program is expected to cost $3.96 billion and will continue until 2023.
In addition to the upgrade program, the island is also buying another 66 new-build F-16 Block 70/72 aircraft from the United States to replace its obsolete fleet of Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II interceptors.
Taiwan is scrambling to improve its defense in the face of China’s increasing determination to take back the self-ruling island, which China sees as a breakaway province.
China has repeatedly said it would prefer to reintegrate Taiwan into the mainland peacefully, but has refused to rule out the use of force. Modern Taiwan was founded in 1949 when remnants of Chinese nationalist forces fled to the island following defeat in the Chinese Civil War.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.