By Roy Choo
A programme to upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16C/Ds to the latest V-model standard is running behind schedule, leaving the country facing a capability gap.
Taiwanese defence minister Yen Teh-fa told the country's parliament earlier in October that so far, just ten upgraded fighters have been handed back to the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF).
Local firm Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) is performing the modification at its Taichung facility under contract to Lockheed.
The project had originally envisaged rotating 24 aircraft per year through the AIDC facility from 2016. However, the first four F-16A/Bs were only received by AIDC in January 2017 because of delays to software testing in the USA.
Further schedule slippage meant that the first locally upgraded F-16V was delivered to the RoCAF in October 2018.
The latest programme schedule saw retrofits of batches of four, 24, 27, 34, 36 and 15 aircraft per year between 2018 and 2023. While the target for 2018 was met, only six aircraft have been delivered this year.
Yen attributes the delays to insufficient personnel and expertise at AIDC, compounded by problems with sub-system integration.
To mitigate against additional delays, AIDC has hired 200 additional staff.
According to data revealed by Yen, 32 aircraft are in various stages of upgrade or awaiting modification, representing nearly one-quarter of the RoCAF’s fleet of 145 F-16s.
Sixteen of these are based in the USA for training and upgrade validation work, further reducing the number of frontline fighters.
Parliament also heard how the budget for the F-16V upgrade programme has increased twice: from NT$110 billion ($3.7 billion) when the contract was signed in 2012, to NT$140.2 billion this year, with additional weapons and avionics driving the cost rise.
In addition, the RoCAF is seeking an additional NT$9.8 billion to purchase more reconnaissance sensors.
Taiwan is also awaiting Congressional approval for the acquisition of 66 new-build F-16V Block 70 aircraft via the USA’s Foreign Military Sales mechanism.
Corrected: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the number of upgraded jets delivered to the RoCAF.