Taiwan commissions its most advanced fighter jets amid growing threats from Beijing

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F-16V jets are an upgrade for Taiwan, thanks to contract with US manufacturer Lockheed Martin.President Tsai Ing-wen hailed the jets’ benefits for Taiwan’s defence capability, links with the US, and aerospace and defence industries.Get a daily selection of our top stories based on your reading preferences.Loading Something is loading.

Email address By clicking ‘Sign up’, you agree to receive marketing emails from Insider as well as other partner offers and accept our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy .Taiwan ‘s air force has commissioned its most advanced fighter jet squadron to boost the island’s defence in the face of growing military threats from Beijing.

The commissioning of the fleet of F-16Vs, attended by Tsai Ing-wen , the island’s president, came during a spike in tensions across the Taiwan Strait.The Chinese military has been sending warplanes to Taiwan’s air defence identification zone almost daily and staging war games nearby to ramp up pressure on the self-ruled island.

“The commissioning not only represents a new page in the history of our air force, but it also has three significant meanings,” Tsai said at a commissioning ceremony on Thursday, going on to outline gains for US-Taiwan cooperation, the island’s aerospace and defence industries, and its defence capability.

It showed the value of Taiwan’s links with the United States, because the jets were upgraded with the help of American manufacturer Lockheed Martin, Tsai said at the air force’s Chiayi base in southwestern Taiwan.

A US-made F-16V fighter takes off during a military exercise in Chiayi County, southern Taiwan, January 15, 2020.

AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying The Taiwanese air force and plane builder Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) have signed a NT$110 billion (US$4 billion) contract with Lockheed Martin to upgrade the air force’s 141 F-16A/B jets to F-16Vs.

According to the air force, AIDC and Lockheed Martin have so far completed the upgrading of 64 jets.Tsai said the upgrade was a step forward for the island’s aerospace technology and defence industry.

By commissioning the F-16Vs, the island was strengthening its defence, given the warplanes’ stealth capability, superior detection prowess and combat power, she said.

During the ceremony, the air force showed off the jets by performing combat take-offs and landings.Twelve F-16Vs in three groups — fitted with various types of missiles, including AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles — performed formation flying, and one demonstrated solo flying skills highlighting its capabilities.

In addition to the ongoing retrofitting, the air force has ordered 66 new F-16Vs, which have new avionics, weapons and radar systems to bolster their ability to repel the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, including its J-20 stealth fighter.Delivery of the jets, worth US$8 billion, is expected to start in 2023, with the last batch to be sent to Taiwan in 2026.

Taiwanese air force ground crew run to a US-made F-16V fighter for an emergency takeoff during an exercise in Chiayi County, January 15, 2020.

AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying Chieh Chung, a national security researcher at the Taipei-based National Policy Foundation, a think tank of main opposition party the Kuomintang, said F16Vs had more sophisticated engines and fuel tanks than the previous F-16As/Bs, allowing them to carry more fuel, fly farther and get closer to mainland China.

“After the retrofitting, the overall combat capability of the jet is 180% greater than the old version and its detection ability is 220% better,” Chieh said.

He said that compared with the radar for the older generation, the F-16V’s Active Electronically Scanned Array radar provided multimode surveillance capability and improved all-environment precision-strike capability, allowing it to pose a bigger threat to the PLA.

Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping, however, said that while F16-Vs might pose a threat to the PLA, it would not change the balance of power between Taiwan and the mainland.

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