Taiwan seeks US help to get regional Viper fighter jet maintenance project off the ground

South China Morning Post 發布於 2019年11月20日13:11 • Lawrence Chung in Taipei lawrence.chung@scmp.com
  • Plane builder AIDC is in talks with US to set up Asia-Pacific centre as they work together on F-16 upgrades
  • But such a plan would need the approval of the US administration, source says
Taiwan is hoping to become home to the first maintenance centre for F-16V fighter jets in the Asia-Pacific. Photo: EPA-EFE

Taiwan's top plane builder is looking to the United States for help to set up the first Asia-Pacific maintenance centre for F-16V "Viper" fighter jets.

Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) has been working with US manufacturer Lockheed Martin on a multibillion-dollar retrofit of the island's 144 F-16A/B Block 20 fighter jets to upgrade them into Vipers.

It had also held talks with the US supplier to establish a maintenance centre for the jets on the island, AIDC officials said on Wednesday.

But the plan hinged on the approval of the US administration, a company source said.

Lockheed Martin has already finished upgrading two of the planes in the US, with AIDC expected to complete the rest by 2023.

US President Donald Trump approved the sale of another 66 new F-16Vs to Taiwan earlier this year, a purchase that would expand the island's fleet to more than 200.

"This will give Taiwan the biggest F-16V fleet in the Asia-Pacific, making it necessary for AIDC to set up a maintenance centre to service the air force's F-16Vs," the source said, adding that the centre could service planes for other militaries.

Taiwan F-16 fighter jet upgrades on schedule, despite delays

AIDC officials briefed Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa on the Viper project during a visit to the company's plant in Taichung, central Taiwan, on Wednesday.

"The minister also asked AIDC to continue to increase its technological strength to help further develop the aerospace industry in Taiwan," the ministry said, adding that Yen welcomed efforts to build the maintenance centre in Taiwan.

Lockheed Martin signed an agreement with AIDC in 2012 to expand their strategic relationship and to jointly explore prospects for the retrofitting project.

The cooperation, which officially started in 2016, included modification of the F-16 jets, manufacture of their component parts and other potential projects, the source said.

According to the schedule " started in 2015 under former president Ma Ying-jeou " AIDC had to upgrade four F-16s in 2018, followed by 24, 27, 34, 36, and 15 in the following years.

But, after meeting last year's target, AIDC has only managed to complete work on a further six jets so far this year, instead of six each quarter.

Chinese military says Taiwan's US$8 billion deal to buy US F-16 fighter jets is a waste of money because they will be 'useless' against the PLA

The company said it should have no problem finishing the retrofit by 2023.

According to the source, the delay was due mainly to repairs not anticipated by the upgrade plan.

The extra repair work related to rust caused by the humid weather in Taiwan, the source said.

The refit is part of the island's effort to strengthen its defences in the face of growing military threats from Beijing, which considers the island a wayward province that must return to the mainland's fold, by force, if necessary.

In addition to new guidance and ground collision avoidance systems, the island is upgrading radars, computer components, and modified landing gear on the planes, according to media reports.

According to the reports, the improvements will increase the radar's detection range by 30 per cent and more than double target detection capacity.

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