The F-16V model is still Taiwan’s biggest hope in the event of a Chinese attack, especially when confronting the J-20 stealth fighter.
The island is currently in the process of upgrading 141 obsolete F-16A/B Block 20 fighters to a newer American version of the fighter – and has ordered 66 brand new F-16V Block 70s – during efforts to strengthen the air force enough to deal with the J-20, the 5th generation stealth fighter model dubbed the “Dragon” of the Chinese military (PLA).
The state-of-the-art radar and electronic systems installed on a J-20, along with an integrated weapon control system, are believed to be similar to the American F-35 concept. Its long-range missiles have a range of about 300 km while the radar system can detect targets at a distance of 135 km.
Meanwhile, the upgraded F-16V version has a higher ability to detect J-20 compared to its predecessor. Unlike previous versions, it is equipped with the APG-83 active phased array radar (AESA) system and many advanced avionics technologies applied in the aviation industry.
It is also capable of carrying a variety of state-of-the-art AIM-9X air-to-air missiles. The new Block 70s, scheduled to be delivered to Taiwan in 2023, are also equipped with powerful F-110-GE132 engines, giving them more maneuverability in direct confrontations or dog fights.
The F-16V is considered a 4.5th generation fighter. It can share intelligence with other aircraft in the same group through identification systems, while night vision systems and automatic ground collision avoidance systems give it the ability to engage in close and long-range combat with the J-20.
When Taiwan receives the new planes – scheduled to begin in 2023 and be completed in 2026 – it will become the world’s largest “operator” of F-16 fighter jets.
But military analysts say that, for the F-16V to be able to defeat the J-20, it depends on how skillfully the aircraft’s electronic warfare and weapon systems are controlled.
The Taiwanese plane that crashed on January 11 was one of the first of the island’s aging F-16s waiting to be upgraded. It was also the first loss of an F-16V model, but the ninth accident in Taiwan involving an F-16 since they were deployed in 1997.
Up to now, the Taiwan Air Force has lost a total of 10 F-16s and 5 Mirage 2000s to accidents, most recently in November 202 when a single-seat F-16 crashed into the Pacific Ocean sea. During a night training session in Hualien, on the east coast of the island. The accident prompted the Taiwanese government to order the shutdown of all F-16 fighter jets for inspection.
But the effects of previous accidents continued. Last month, a court in Taipei ruled that the Taiwanese government must pay NT$4.66 million (US$167,442) in compensation to the family of Colonel Wu Yen-ting, who ejected a parachute during the accident. An F-16 crashed in 2013 but was later killed in another plane crash in 2018.
The purchases of 150 American F-16A/B Block 20 fighters and 60 French Dassault Mirage fighters initially gave Taiwan an air superiority over the obsolete J-7 and J-8 fighters, along with a few imported Su-27s, from Russia.
But that changed thanks to the development of the J-20 model. The PLA Air Force has also added hundreds of domestically produced J-10s, J-11s, and J-16s to its fleet, over the past 20 years.
While China is rapidly increasing its power, Taiwan is unable to purchase more advanced new fighter jets. An agreement to propose the US sell 66 F-16 C/Ds was canceled in 2005, largely due to outcry from Beijing.
Taiwan’s air force has also come under increasing pressure in recent years, as PLA military planes increasingly organize flights into the island’s air defense identification zone. Each time, Taiwan send many fighter jets to intercept, causing these planes to be exhausted.
In 2019, while relations between Washington and Beijing were strained, the US increased arms sales to Taiwan, and gave the island an opportunity to upgrade its air force. The White House has approved a deal to sell brand new F-16V Block 70s to Taiwan for a total of $8 billion.
While Taiwan waits for the shipment to be delivered, Lockheed Martin is also upgrading the island’s outdated planes from 2017, in a contract worth $4 billion. Up to now, 64 units have been upgraded. They were launched at a ceremony held in November 2021, attended by leader Thai Anh Van.