STRONG NATIONAL DEFENSE: The new center would reduce maintenance times and increase fighter jet availability, the president said at the opening ceremony
Staff writer, with CNA
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday presided over the opening of a maintenance center for F-16 jets in Taichung — the first of its kind in Asia — allowing the nation’s fleet of fighter jets to get an upgrade and eventually other countries’ aircraft to get repairs.
Under an agreement reached in December last year, the NT$110 billion (US$3.73 billion) facility was jointly established by Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) and the US-based Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the jets.
The center is to handle the upgrades on the Republic of China (ROC) Air Force’s 142 F-16A/B jets, as well as repairs on the 66 F-16C/D Block 70 jets that the government purchased from the US last year.
Photo: Liao Yao-tung, Taipei Times
Tsai told the opening ceremony that defending the sovereignty of the ROC and maintaining regional peace meant that Taiwan could not bow to pressure, but needed to have strong national defense capabilities.
The maintenance center “will significantly reduce maintenance time and increase fighter jet availability,– ensuring air superiority on the front lines of national defense,” she said.
Expounding on her mantra that “peace depends on national defense,” Tsai said that national defense efforts could also be used to spur industrial development by creating industry chains, technology transfers and better training.
One of her top priorities is to allow local vendors to participate in production and maintenance work connected with the center, Tsai said.
By doing so, the center could likely generate NT$79.5 billion in output value over 30 years, support 600 jobs annually and create NT$200 billion in overall industry benefits, she added.
The facility would help the nation’s air force resolve three of its main issues with the F-16 platform: high maintenance costs, long delivery times for spare parts and the high frequency of jet usage, AIDC president Ma Wan-june (馬萬鈞) said.
Taiwan would soon have more than 200 F-16s, he said, adding that with a system availability of about 70 to 80 percent, about 40 fighter jets would always be undergoing maintenance.
While the center’s first priority is the ROC Air Force, Ma said that there was “no reason” why the center could not eventually compete for business from other countries in the region that operate F-16s.
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, AIDC said that it had about 800 technicians certified by the company to carry out upgrades on F-16A/B jets.
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