The Obama administration has approved a $5.3 billion upgrade of Taiwan's Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fighters, including active electronically scanned array radars, new weapons and a range of sensor upgrades.

"The proposed retrofit improves both the capabilities and the reliability of the recipient's fleet of F-16A/B aircraft," said the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency's (DSCA) notification to Congress. "The improved capability, survivability and reliability of newly retrofitted F-16A/B aircraft will greatly enhance the recipient's ability to defend its borders."

Although it made no mention of the 66 F-16C/Ds Taiwan has been requesting for years, the statement infuriated China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province. A report carried by China's official Xinhua news agency said that Beijing summoned US ambassador Gary Locke to protest against the deal, while China's ambassador in Washington DC also expressed disapproval.

Taiwan air force F-16
 © Peter Foster

If implemented, the package will make Taiwan's fleet of 152 F-16s among the most capable in the world. It includes 176 AESA radars, 176 Terma ALQ-213 electronic warfare management systems, 128 joint helmet-mounted cueing systems and several other avionics and systems upgrades.

Weapons included in the package are the Raytheon AIM-9X air-to-air missile, as well as several surface attack weapons.

The USA is also offering a study into replacing the aircraft's existing Pratt & Whitney F100-220 engines with F100-229s.

The prime contractor for the deal will be Lockheed. The DSCA lists 11 other major defence contractors that will be involved in the upgrade.

The upgrade's most salient element is the new AESA radar. At the August Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition, Northrop Grumman promoted its scalable agile beam radar against the Raytheon advanced combat radar.

Separate statements from the DSCA covered spares and training. The spares and support package is worth $52 million and covers Taiwan's F-16s, Northrop F-5s, Lockheed C-130Hs, and Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation Indigenous Defence Fighters.

A $500 million pilot training package allows for the continued instruction of Taiwanese pilots at Luke AFB, Arizona, as well as for the logistics support of Taiwanese aircraft at the base.

"The training provides a 'capstone' course that takes experienced pilots and significantly improves their tactical proficiency," said the DSCA. "Training is a key component of combat effectiveness."

On 1 October, the US State Department is due to notify Congress about its recommendation on whether to sell Taiwan the F-16C/Ds. Widespread media reports quoting US government officials suggest Washington will again turn down Taiwan's request for the new aircraft.

Source: Flight International