Taiwan has deployed the most advanced version of the F-16 fighter jet in its air force, as the self-ruled island steps up its defence capabilities in the face of continuing threats from China.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen commissioned into service 64 upgraded F-16V fighter jets at an air force base in Chiayi on Thursday.
The aircraft represent part of Taiwan’s 141-strong F-16 fleet, mainly older models from the 1990s that will be retrofitted by the end of 2023.
Tsai said the upgrade project showed the strength of Taiwan’s co-operation with the US.
It comes at a time the island’s status has become a major point of tension.
Beijing has been stepping up its threat by sending fighter jets in combat formations into Taiwan’s buffer zone southwest of the island on a regular basis, along with longer-range missions into the Western Pacific.
China has increased its rhetoric as well, with leader Xi Jinping this week telling US President Joe Biden that challenges to China’s claim over the island amounted to playing with fire.
China and Taiwan split during a civil war in 1949, and Beijing has not ruled out force to reunify with the island.
The United States’ ‘One China’ policy recognises Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defence ties with Taipei.
“This represents the steadfast promise of the Taiwan-US partnership,” Tsai said.
“I trust that in holding fast to democratic values, there will definitely be more countries with similar values who will stand with us on this front.”
The F-16V is the most technologically advanced version of the multi-role fighter jet, equipped with highly capable radar, allowing it to track more than 20 targets at a time.
It also features cutting-edge electronic warfare systems, along with advanced weapons, precision GPS navigation and a system to automatically avoid collisions with the ground.
Taiwan’s air force also operates French Dassault Mirage 2000 and domestically designed and manufactured AIDC F-CK Chingkuo fighters for a total fleet of about 400.
China, by contrast, operates roughly 1600 fighter jets, around half of them based in the eastern and southern theatres closest to Taiwan, along with around 450 bombers.