Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) is close to completing the first phase of a programme to upgrade Taipei's F-CK-1 Ching Kuo fighters.
"The Ching Kuo upgrade is going very well," says CH Lee, vice-president of military business development at AIDC. "Phase one, which will upgrade 71 aircraft, will be completed this year."
Lee says that "66 or 67" aircraft have been upgraded so far. The programme improves the aircraft's avionics, with the key element being the addition of colour displays in the cockpit. The work also improves the type's mechanically-scanned radar, giving it better capability to deal with electronic countermeasures.
After this batch of aircraft is upgraded, the company will move to phase two, in which Taipei's remaining 56 F-CK-1s will be modified. The entire fleet is expected to be upgraded by 2015-2016. Lee says the upgrade should extend the F-CK-1 service life by 20 years.
"The upgrades will reduce pilot workload while improving situational awareness," says Lee. He adds that the modifications will allow the fighter to carry more advanced weapons. Taipei first announced the upgrade programme in June 2011.
Lee adds that Taipei is still in discussions with the USA regarding the details of a separate programme to upgrade 145 Lockheed Martin F-16 A/B fighters. After the conclusion of the F-CK-1 programme, AIDC plans to deploy its work force on to this activity.
In October 2012, the US government awarded Lockheed a contract worth up to $1.85 billion to upgrade the avionics of the fleet.
"This retrofit programme will include the addition of an active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, embedded global positioning, as well as upgrades to the electronic warfare and other avionics systems of Taiwan's F-16s," says Lockheed.
A major question mark over the F-16 upgrade is the provider of the AESA radar, with the US Air Force conducting a competition to choose the radar for Taipei's fighters. The two contenders are Northrop Grumman's scalable agile beam radar and the Raytheon advanced combat radar.