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 represents part of Taiwan’s total 141 F-16 A/B jets, an older model from the 1990s that will be completely retrofitted by the end of 2023.
Tsai said the upgrade project showed the strength of Taiwan’s cooperation with the U.S. defence industry. It comes at a time the island’s status has become a major point of tension in the U.S.-China relationship. 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 President Xi Jinping telling President Joe Biden during a virtual summit this week 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.
The F-16V is the most technologically advanced version of the storied 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.
The planes represent the most advanced of the fourth generation of fighter aircraft, but still below the latest fifth-generation such as the U.S. F-22 and F-35, and Russia’s Su-57 and China’s J-20. With the upgrades and the planned delivery of 66 new F-16Vs in 2023, Taiwan will be the largest operator of F-16s in Asia, said Kitsch Liao, a military and cyber affairs consultant for DoubleThink Lab, an organisation targeting disinformation. This means the island should invest in repair centres for the jets to improve readiness, Liao said. Previously, Taiwan had to send the jets to other countries for repair.
China coast guard uses water cannon against Philippine boats
Chinese coast guard ships blocked and sprayed a powerful stream of water at two Philippine boats carrying supplies to troops at a disputed South China Sea shoal, prompting Manila to order Beijing’s ships to back off and warn that its supply vessels are covered by a mutual defense treaty with the United States, Manila’s top diplomat said Thursday.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said no one was hurt in the incident on Tuesday.
It was the latest flare-up in the long-simmering territorial disputes in the strategic waterway, where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.