Taiwan will upgrade 71 of its Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation F-CK-1 Ching Kuo indigenous defence fighters (IDF) in a deal worth NT$17 billion ($588 million).
At a ceremony at the Taichung factory of the AIDC, Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou inspected a newly upgraded IDF.
"I hope the IDF jets will stand for 'I do fight' and 'I don't fail'," said Ma, who posed in the cockpit.
Both images © Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation
Avionics upgrades mainly involve colour displays in the cockpit, although the upgrade will also improve the IDF's mechanically scanned radar to better deal with electronic countermeasures. The upgraded aircraft will not, however, receive an active electronically scanned array sensor.
An industry source confirmed that six aircraft have been upgraded already, with 65 more to be modified over the next three years. Taiwan has 130 IDFs, and has yet to make a decision about upgrading the remaining aircraft.
Despite the IDF upgrade, the capabilities of Taiwan's air force are still in relative decline compared with those of China, which is steadily upgrading to modern types such as the Chengdu J-10, Shenyang J-11 (a copy of the Sukhoi Su-27), and the Sukhoi Su-30.
Taiwan has been trying to purchase 66 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D fighters from the USA since 2006, but the Bush and Obama administrations, reportedly wary of angering China, have stalled on signing off the deal.
During a visit to the USA in May, Chinese army chief Chen Bingde urged his hosts to cease arms sales to Taiwan. He also requested that Washington review the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the USA to sell Taiwan arms of a defensive nature.
Nonetheless, Taiwan is still interested in upgrading its air force, and several US congressmen have called for the F-16 sale to progress.