Taiwan’s multimillion-dollar programme to retrofit its 142-strong fleet of F-16 fighter jets to bring them up to Viper standard is expected to be completed within the next four years.
Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa told parliament on Wednesday that all problems with the upgrade programme had been solved and the air force expected to take delivery of the jets by 2023. The performance of the jets will be further bolstered by the addition of medium-range precision guided weapons and automatic ground collision avoidance systems.
Yen was responding to lawmakers’ concerns that the retrofitting timetable would be affected by the US$8 billion purchase from the US of 66 of the latest Lockheed Martin F-16V Viper fighter jets, after local military critics questioned whether the deal would force the military to axe some spending on the retrofitting programme.
Lawmakers also questioned whether Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) had sufficient manpower for the project after the company failed to deliver six refitted jets in the first quarter of this year as scheduled.
Yen refuted suggestions the delay had been the result of pressure to complete Taiwan’s first indigenous advance fighter trainer jet in September, in line with President Tsai Ing-wen’s policy for the island to develop its own military aircraft.
He said the delay had nothing to do with the purchase of the 66 new F-16V variants as the funding for the purchase and refitting was separate. “Nor does it have anything to do with the advance trainer jet because members of the trainer jet’s production team and the refitting team are two different groups of people,” Yen said.
He admitted there was a manpower shortage problem within AIDC but assured lawmakers that, after coordination with Lockheed Martin and the recruitment of more engineers, the refitting team now had an additional 200 people, which would ensure completion of the project by 2023. (end of excerpt)
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