Taiwan on Thursday unveiled an upgraded version of its locally developed fighter jet in a bid to boost its air defences against China after the US declined to sell it F16 warplanes.
Taipei began the upgrade in 2009 after Washington, the island’s leading arms supplier, allegedly held up its request to buy new fighter jets for fear of angering Beijing.
“I hope the IDF jets will stand for ‘I do fight’ and ‘I don’t fail’,” said President Ma Ying-jeou, who gave a thumbs-up as he sat in the cockpit of the improved warplane.
The defence ministry has said it plans to upgrade 71 Indigenous Defensive Fighters (IDF), nearly half of the fleet, in a four-year project estimated to cost $587 million.
The retro-fitted jets have enhanced radar, electronic fighting systems and mission computers, experts say. They are armed with four locally made air-to-air missiles — up from two previously — as well as ground attack bombs and missiles.
Ma has repeatedly urged Washington to sell Taiwan F16 C/D jets, saying they are critical to help the island maintain sufficient self-defence capabilities against China’s rapidly expanding military.
The United States last year approved $6.4 billion of weapons sales to Taiwan, including Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters, but the fighter jets were not among them.
China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which it regards as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, and opposes any arms sales to the island. The two sides have been governed separately since their split in 1949 after a civil war.