US Declares Taiwan’s F-16 Viper Program Is Ready To “Wipe-Off” Enemies; 139 Jets Upgraded To Block 70-72 Standards

On February 5, the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center announced the successful completion of the US$4.5-billion “Peace Phoenix Rising” initiative, aimed at upgrading 139 of Taiwan’s F-16s to the F-16V (Block 70-72) configuration.

The upgrade initiative is part of Taiwan’s broader strategy to modernize its defense capabilities and ensure its ability to defend against any Chinese threat. 

Throughout the program, Taiwan’s F-16 fleet underwent comprehensive upgrades, including the installation of advanced radar systems, targeting pods, communication systems, and precision navigation capabilities, according to the Air & Space Forces Magazine.  

This comprehensive upgrade effort, which commenced in 2016 and saw its first completed aircraft delivery in late 2018, represents the most extensive F-16 Foreign Military Sales retrofit program since the aircraft’s introduction into the US Air Force in 1979.  

The final F-16V upgraded aircraft was delivered in December after undergoing comprehensive checks. In November 2021, the Taiwanese Air Force commissioned its first operational wing of F-16Vs. Taiwanese Air Force is formally known as the Republic of China Air Force.

Initially planned for 144 aircraft, the program encountered setbacks due to attrition losses incurred since its initiation. These losses, resulting from various factors such as accidents, mechanical failures, and other operational necessities, necessitated adjustments to the program’s original scope.

Following the successful completion of the upgrade program, the next phase involves the delivery of 66 new-build F-16s in a comparable configuration, expected to be completed within the next two to three years. 

Nonetheless, the program’s culmination is poised to significantly augment the capabilities of the island nation’s Air Force.

Termed a “massive upgrade” by AFLCMC, the enhancements include the integration of Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 Active Electronically-Scanned Array radar, the Sniper targeting pod, and the Link 16 communication system.

The program included a helmet-mounted cueing system, precision GPS navigation, advanced weapon capabilities, an upgraded modular mission computer, an ethernet high-speed data network, a new center cockpit pedestal display, and reinforced landing gear.

Nathan Frock, AFLCMC’s acting security assistance program manager for the Taiwan F-16 retrofit program, highlighted additional structural upgrades to the wings, fuselage, and landing gear, enhancing the aircraft’s capabilities and sustainability and allowing for heavier take-offs and increased landing weight.

AFLCMC also announces the commencement of Peace Phoenix Rising Modernization II, focusing on augmenting capabilities such as integrating the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), implementing an automatic ground collision avoidance system, incorporating the MS-110 multispectral reconnaissance pod, and integrating the AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW).

The Role Of F-16Vs In Strengthening Taiwan’s Capabilities

Over the past three years, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense reports an influx of over 4,000 fighter jets, drones, and assorted aircraft from China encroaching into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. 

Responding to each incursion, Taiwan has consistently deployed its aircraft, particularly its F-16 fleet, increasing operational strain and potential for wear and tear. The comparatively limited number of aircraft at Taiwan’s disposal underscores the urgency for upgrades to mitigate the risks of accidents.

Consequently, the initiative’s conclusion represents a pivotal measure in sustaining the capabilities of the Taiwanese Air Force.  

The enhancement equips Taiwan’s F-16 fleet with capabilities matching or surpassing most US Air Force F-16s, serving as a deterrent against potential military aggression from the People’s Republic of China.

Expressing satisfaction with completing the Peace Phoenix Rising modification project, Col. Eddie Wagner, AFLCMC’s F-16 FMS Senior Materiel Leader, commended the collaborative efforts in overcoming various challenges, notably the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Taiwan commissions first upgraded F-16 fighter wing
A line-up of upgraded F-16s sits at Chiayi Airbase. (Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense)

Furthermore, in August 2023, Taiwan secured approval for US$500 million for infrared search and track systems for its F-16s, essential for detecting low radar cross-section aircraft like China’s J-20, as reported by the EurAsian Times. 

However, the procurement of 66 new F-16Vs, sanctioned by Congress in 2019 for $8 billion, faced delays, with deliveries pushed back to 2024 due to developmental challenges in software development.

Efforts are underway to expedite the transfer of these new F-16Vs to Taipei, with expectations for the first delivery in the third quarter of 2024. 

A notable improvement in the new F-16Vs is the extended service life from 8,000 to 12,000 hours, offering enhanced longevity compared to earlier variants.

Despite setbacks, measures are being taken to bolster Taiwan’s air defense capabilities amidst escalating tensions and increased military activities in the region.