Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) has said the upgrade programme for the Republic of China Air Force's (RoCAF's) fleet of F-16A/Bs will begin on schedule in early 2017.
The company said on 7 May it is currently building a hangar large enough to ensure that 24 aircraft per year can be updated.
Taiwan is seeking to upgrade its entire fleet of 144 F-16A/Bs by 2022. While most of the aircraft will be upgraded at AIDC's facility in Taichung, central Taiwan, some of the fighters will be shipped to the US for Lockheed Martin to carry out the upgrade.
When completed, the upgrade programme will see all of Taiwan's F-16A/Bs fitted with Northrop Grumman's APG-83 active electronically scanned array (AESA) fire-control radar, a 6x8-inch centre pedestal display, and an upgraded mission computer.
While Taiwanese defence officials remain optimistic that the upgrade programme can be completed by the 2022 deadline, there are still questions over its funding.
For instance, the second phase of the upgrade still requires funding, as US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers told IHS Jane's .
"If you review the original congressional notification, the programme is valued at USD5.3 billion, but the [Taiwanese government] baulked at funding the whole thing upfront, so there's still a second phase of funding required."
There is also concern in Washington that the upgrade programme will put considerable strain on the RoCAF and that it may leave Taiwan at a considerable cross-strait disadvantage in terms of air power.
By Hammond-Chambers' calculations - based on a 75% operational rate as well as maintenance and/or other life cycle support - the RoCAF will have some 79 F-16A/Bs operational at any given time for the duration of the upgrade.
He also warned that these airframes will be worked harder because there are fewer to use and that over the longer term this will shorten the lifespan of each aircraft irrespective of the upgrade.
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