The “Peace Phoenix Rising” program to upgrade 139 Taiwanese F-16s to the F-16V (Block 70-72) configuration has concluded, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center announced on Feb 5. The next step in boosting Taiwan’s air defenses is the delivery of 66 newly built F-16s with a comparable configuration, planned for the next two to three years.
The upgrade gives Taiwan’s F-16s a capability equivalent to or greater than most US Air Force F-16s. The program is intended to deter the People’s Republic of China from a military attack on Taiwan.
The last modernized “Viper” reactor was delivered in December after the final checks, according to the AFLCMC. The Taiwan Air Force, officially known as the Republic of China Air Force commissioned its first operational F-16V wing in November 2021.
“This massive upgrade,” as AFLCMC described it, provided Taiwanese F-16s with the Northrop Grumman-built AN/APG-83 Active Electronically-Scanned Array radar, the Sniper targeting pod, Link 16, a hull, precision GPS navigation, advanced weapons capability, an updated modular mission computer, a high-speed Ethernet data network, a new center cockpit pedestal display and heavy landing gear.
“Additional modifications to the aircraft include a number of structural improvements to the wings, fuselage and landing gear that make the aircraft more capable and sustainable. It also allows for heavier takeoff as well as higher landing weight,” said Nathan Frock, AFLCMC acting safety assistance program director for Taiwan’s F-16 modernization program.
The upgrade program began in 2016, and the first completed aircraft was delivered in late 2018. Peace Phoenix Rising is the largest F-16 FMS modernization program since the F-16 entered the US Air Force in 1979. AFLCMC said. Taiwan purchased 150 F-16A/Bs in 1992; most of them were modernized within the framework of Peace Phoenix. The modernization was originally to cover 144 aircraft, but losses due to attrition have occurred since the original request.
Taiwan requested the upgrade of Block 70 and the sale of new reactors after being denied the purchase of F-35s.
The program’s termination comes after 24 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in November 2023, urging the service to accelerate the program’s conclusion and move forward with the purchase of 66 new F-16V, worth $8 billion, passed by Congress in 2019. They noted that upgrades were lagging and new-build fighters had been delayed by at least two and perhaps three years.
“We continue to consider these FMS cases to be high risk,” the lawmakers said. The deputies noted that the two FMS cases – the F-16 upgrade and new build – were “affected from the beginning by optimistic assumptions about how quickly new technologies and modifications could be integrated” into the design of the F-16s. 16.
“Taiwan urgently needs these new and improved aircraft, and a stronger and more resilient Taiwan will improve stability in the Taiwan Strait,” they said.
Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter responded that the service is exploring “all options to prioritize and accelerate” the transfer of the new F-16Vs to Taipei.
Although the first two aircraft were supposed to be delivered by the end of 2023, this was not the case; The Air Force and Lockheed Martin attributed the delay to “complex development issues” posed by creating new software for the fighter. According to industry sources, Taiwan should receive its first F-16 Block 70 in the third quarter of 2024.
In their letter to Kendall, the lawmakers urged the Air Force not to make “similarly optimistic assumptions about manifesting itself in the future. “We cannot afford to over-promise and under-deliver to our closest friends.”
President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to accelerate the Foreign Military Sales process, and last week reported that 2023 was a record year for FMS deals, totaling $80.9 billion, an increase of 55% Regarding fiscal year 2022.
Unlike previous F-16s, which had a service life of about 8,000 hours, the newly built F-16V will have a service life of 12,000 hours.
Aerospace Industry Development Center (AIDC) was Lockheed’s subcontractor in Taiwan. Together, the two companies designed and built the F-CK-1 Ching Kuo, or Taiwanese indigenous defense fighter, of which 130 units were delivered in the 1990s. These fighters are considered to be intermediate in capability between the Northrop F-5E, which Taiwan also flies, and the F-16. Taiwan’s air force also has Dassault Mirage 2000s, some of which could have a longer service life due to delays in delivery of the F-16Vs.
The AFLCMC reported that it is working on a second phase of the modernization project – Peace Phoenix Rising Modernization II – that will add capacity for the AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM), an automatic ground collision avoidance system, the MS-110 multispectral reconnaissance module and the AGM-154 joint strike weapon (JSOW).
“We know this work is not over as we continue to accelerate capability upgrades for the Taiwan Air Force’s F-16 fleet, but achieving this key milestone is worth highlighting,” said Col. Eddie Wagner, FMS senior material chief for the AFLCMC F-16s.
Last August, Taiwan received approval to purchase infrared search and tracking systems for the F-16 worth $500 million. Legion’s IRST systems are considered essential to helping fourth-generation fighters like the F-16 detect aircraft with a low radar cross-section, like China’s J-20.
“I am very proud of how all parties involved in this critical retrofit [Peace Phoenix Rising] have been able to overcome so many obstacles, including the COVID-19 pandemic, to deliver all 139 retrofitted aircraft by the end of 2023,” Wagner said. “We know the work is not over as we continue to accelerate capability upgrades to the Taiwan Air Force’s existing F-16 fleet, but successfully achieving this key milestone is definitely noteworthy.”
Lockheed has at least six customers for the Lockheed F-16V/Block 70 and delivered the first two to Slovakia in January. Company officials say they are targeting production of up to 36 F-16s per year by the end of 2024 and 48 per year by the end of 2025 from Lockheed’s plant in Greenville, South Carolina, where F-16 production moved from Fort Worth, Texas, several years ago. However, at this rate, it will be difficult to deliver all of Taiwan’s new F-16Vs by 2026.
OJ Sanchez, vice president and general manager of Lockheed’s integrated fighter group, said the company sees significant F-16 upgrade opportunities, with more than 3,000 F-16s flying around the world. Greece, for example, has accepted more than 10 F-16s upgraded to the V configuration out of a total of 84 scheduled for delivery in 2027.
John A. Tirpak