TAIPEI, Taiwan --- Four upgraded F-16 fighter jets are scheduled to be delivered to the Air Force in 2018 by a state-owned aviation firm, Ministry of National Defense (MND) sources said Wednesday.
The sources said the four upgraded F-16s are currently undergoing ground testing by the Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC), and will undergo flight testing in early 2018 before being delivered to the Air Force later in the year.
The fighters are part of a NT$110 billion (US$3.68 billion) program by the government to launch a domestic upgrade of Taiwan's 144 F-16 A/B jets into F-16Vs, the largest and most important upgrade ever undertaken by the Air Force.
In order to carry out the program locally, the manufacturer of the jets -- Lockheed Martin in the United States -- sent engineers to Taiwan last year to help train local personnel at the AIDC on how to perform the upgrades.
According to the AIDC, the retrofit program includes installing advanced equipment on the fighters, including the AN/APG active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system, currently used in the U.S. F-22 and F-35 fighters.
In addition, the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System and the short-range air-to-air AIM-9 Sidewinder missile are also being installed in the upgraded F-16s.
After the delivery of the first four upgraded fighters next year, the MND aims to complete a comprehensive upgrade of its entire F-16 fleet by the end of 2023 to further improve the country's combat strength.
According to the MND, Taiwan is expected to become the first country in the world to operate an F-16V fleet.
In a hearing at the Legislative Yuan last year, Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan said that the upgraded F-16 fleet is expected to help Taiwan take on China's most advanced Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 fighters. Former Air Force Command Chief of Staff Fan Ta-wei has also said he has faith that the F-16V fleet will be able to protect Taiwan in case of a military crisis across the Taiwan Strait.
The U.S. approved the sale of 150 F-16A/B fighters to Taiwan in 1992. Over the years, Taiwan has lost six of them in accidents.
The F-16 is one of the three main types of combat aircraft in Taiwan's Air Force.