Speaking in front of parliament on Wednesday, Yen reassured lawmakers that Taipei’s F-16 reffitting program, being conducted by the state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC), is now on track for completion within the next four years.
The refitting, which comes amid the country’s efforts to bolster its defenses, began in 2015 under former President Ma Ying Jeou and is intended to upgrade Taiwan’s existing fleet of F-16 fighter jets to the same standards as the 66 Fighting Falcon Viper variants recently purchased through an $8 billion deal with the US.
However, the AIDC’s refitting progress has slowed down in 2019, and only six F-16 jets have made it through the process, rather than the expected target of six upgrades per quarter, according to the South China Morning Post.
Yen asserted to lawmakers that despite skepticism, the delays had nothing to do with the recent US F-16 deal - as the programs have separate budgets - nor did it have “anything to do with the advance trainer jet because members of the trainer jet’s production team and the refitting team are two different groups of people.”
Instead, the main issue was a lack of manpower within the AIDC, which has since been remedied through the recruitment of some 200 engineers and reported discussions with US-based defense firm Lockheed Martin.
According to Defense News, the upgrades to bring the older F-16 variants up to Fighting Falcon Viper standards include new mission computers, an upgraded electronic warfare suite and avionics, a new radar system and the integration of precision-guided weapons.
Taipei’s recommitment to the program and announcement of additional engineers comes amid an increased presence of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), US Air Force and US Navy in the East China Sea and Taiwan Strait in the past several weeks.
China has been vocal about its disagreement with Washington aiding “Taiwan secessionists” through defense deals and warned the US of possible sanctions targeting companies associated with Taiwan’s recent F-16 purchase.