Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Visiting the facility in the central city of Taichung, President Tsai Ing-wen said it had repaired and overhauled more than 100 types of spare parts and components for the fighter jets in Taiwan.
“This has greatly improved the problems of slow delivery, high cost and a high defect rate in the repair of components and spare part systems for [Taiwan’s] fleet of these warplanes,” she said.
The centre opened in August 2020 after an agreement was signed between Taiwan’s government-funded Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) and Lockheed Martin.
Tsai said the facility had reduced the time needed for maintenance of the island’s F-16 fleet, which made it more reliable for safeguarding Taiwan.
She urged local manufacturers working with the AIDC to produce reliable parts to repair and maintain the fighter jets’ bodies, engines, avionics and other systems.
Tsai also called on the local industry to help develop global aviation markets, to boost the island’s status as a regional aerospace supply chain.
She said the establishment of the centre was part of a government push to develop the island’s defense industry, which she said was necessary in the face of Beijing’s military expansion.
“The more prepared we are, the more we can minimise the chances of the enemy advancing,” the president said.
The US-made F-16 is the mainstay of Taiwan’s air force fleet to take on potential challenges from an increasingly powerful People’s Liberation Army, which has in recent years ramped up threats against the self-ruled island. Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be brought under its control, by force if necessary.
Taiwan has around 140 of the fighter jets, including some that have been upgraded to the more advanced F-16 Viper by Lockheed Martin under a US$4.56 billion deal reached in 2012. The US has also approved the sale of an US$8 billion package of 66 F-16C/D Block 70 fighter jets that are due for delivery by 2023, which would take the F-16 fleet to 206.
Before the maintenance centre opened, Taiwan’s air force had to send parts and components to the US for repair, which took time and cost more.
According to the AIDC, the centre is tasked with maintaining, repairing, overhauling and upgrading the F-16s with supporting technologies transferred from Lockheed Martin. It will ultimately provide such services to F-16 fleets based in Asia and other parts of the world, the AIDC said.
Countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia are among Lockheed Martin’s F-16 buyers, each owning between 33 and 180 of the fighter jets. India is also a potential client.
Su Tzu-yun, a senior analyst at the government-funded Institute for National Defence and Security Research, said the average lifespan of an F-16 was 40 years, and an additional 30 per cent of its cost was needed for maintenance and repairs during its time in service.
“But more importantly, the partnership underlines the mutual trust between Taiwan and the US,” Su said.
The US has in the past avoided passing key military technologies to Taiwan because of concern that they could be acquired or stolen by Beijing.