TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan on Friday opened a new F-16 fighter jet maintenance center in Taichung, the first such facility in Asia, to upgrade the nation’s fleet of 142 F-16 fighters and eventually perform repairs on aircraft from other countries.
The NT$110 billion (US$3.7 billion) facility was jointly established by Taiwan’s state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) and U.S.-based Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the jets, under an agreement reached last December.
The center will be responsible for carrying out upgrades on the Air Force’s 142 F-16A/B fighter jets, as well as for repairs to the 66 F-16V (Block 70) aircraft Taiwan purchased from the United States last year.
Speaking at the center’s opening, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said defending the sovereignty of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and maintaining regional peace meant that Taiwan could not bow to pressure and had to have strong national defense capabilities.
The new maintenance center, she said, “will significantly reduce maintenance time and increase fighter jet availability, ensuring air superiority on the front lines of national defense.”
Expanding on her mantra that “peace depends on national defense,” Tsai said national defense efforts could also be used to spur industrial development by creating industry chains, technology transfers, and better training.
In that regard, one of her top priorities is to allow domestic vendors to participate in production and maintenance work connected to the center, Tsai said.
By doing so, the center will generate an estimated NT$79.5 billion in output value over 30 years, support 600 jobs annually and create overall industry benefits of up to NT$200 billion, she said.
AIDC President Ma Wan-june (馬萬鈞) said the facility would help the Air Force resolve three of its main issues with the F-16 platform — namely, high maintenance prices, long delivery times for spare parts and the high frequency with which it uses the jets.
In the future, Taiwan will have over 200 F-16s in its fleet. Assuming a system availability of 70 or 80 percent, that means around 40 jets will be undergoing maintenance at any one time, he said.
While the center’s first priority is to service Taiwan’s Air Force, Ma said there was “no reason” why it should not eventually compete for business from other countries operating F-16s in the region.
Under the terms of its strategic alliance with Lockheed Martin, AIDC has received authorization to produce 23 parts used in F-16s.
At the time of the agreement, ADIC said it had some 800 technicians certified by the company to carry out upgrades on F-16A/B jets.