M7.4 Richter quake damages Republic of China’s elite F-16V squadron

In Taiwan, commonly known as the Republic of China, eight F-16V fighter jets at the Hualien Air Base suffered significant damage due to a major earthquake. This disaster, which occurred around 8:00 am local time on Wednesday, rendered the aircraft unfit for service. 

M7.4 Richter quake damages Republic of China's elite F-16V squadron
Photo credit: Taiwan Presidential Office

The shockwaves from the earthquake, reported as having a magnitude of 7.4, were discernible as far away as Shanghai. The disaster led to the unfortunate deaths of nine individuals. However, thanks to quake-resistant infrastructure, the number of casualties was considerably limited. More localized damage was evident at the Hualien Air Base, where buildings, including bunkers, hangars, and barracks, displayed significant signs of cracking. Instances of total wall collapses were also recorded. 

The base, located on Taiwan’s eastern coast and facing mainland China, carries immense strategic importance. In the event of renewed hostilities between the two differing Chinese governments in Beijing and Taipei – governments that have been embroiled in a civil war since the 1940s, each claiming sole legitimacy over China – the Hualien Air Base is expected to play a crucial role in air defense and the launching of cruise missile strikes.

M7.4 Richter quake damages Republic of China's elite F-16V squadron
Photo credit: Reddit

F-16s in Taiwan

In terms of fighter aircraft deployments, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force from the mainland predominantly employs native fighters. Notably, these include the only non-American fifth-generation fighters that have reached squadron-level strength. On the other hand, for several decades, the Republic of China Air Force has predominantly relied on combat jets supplied by the U.S., reflecting the robust alliance between Taipei and Washington. 

In the 1980s, the Republic of China Air Force initially sought to procure F-16s and was successful in obtaining consent to acquire 140 airframes in the subsequent decade. This led to the formation of two large fighter units, which, however, comprised the less advanced F-16A/B Block 20 variants. By the time these were delivered, newer variants were already in service within the American fleet.

Unrecognized Taiwan

Arms sales to the government of the Republic of China have always been a contentious topic. This is largely due to Taipei’s lack of recognition from the United Nations and a vast majority of UN member states, including the United States. As a result, many view these arms sales as comparable to trades with a non-state entity. 

Despite consistent rejections of Taipei’s procurement proposals launched in the early 2000s for F-35 fighters, which could upgrade their fleet technology to match mainland capabilities, the Barack Obama administration approved a project in 2012. This project aimed to modernize old F-16A/B fighters to the F-16V standard starting from 2016. The first squadron of 64 of these updated machines was commissioned in November 2021. 

At Mach 1.9, the F-16 rapidly reduces speed and quivers - US pilot
Photo credit: Twitter

Sadly, the first casualty among these aircraft occurred just two months later, coinciding with a series of fighter crashes throughout Taiwan. One significant upgrade that these fighters have gained is the inclusion of the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar. This radar system not only offers superior resistance to jamming but also features a power output significantly higher than the now obsolete AN/APG-66 mechanically scanned array radar, first introduced in the 1990s.

Taiwanese F-16s

Taiwan possesses the F-16A/B Block 20 variant, which represents a unique model manufactured specifically for this island nation in the 1990s, under the ‘Peace Fenghuang’ program. Offering a substantial upgrade from the basic F-16 model, this version boasts an enhanced radar system – the AN/APG-66[V]3, known for its superior detection range and resolution. Additionally, its advanced avionics, such as the modular mission computer, significantly spike its combat capabilities. 

Apart from the F-16A/B Block 20, Taiwan is on the course of upgrading its fleet to the F-16V variant – the latest and the most advanced version of the F-16. Also known as the Viper, the F-16V is equipped with the AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar [SABR], providing a 5th-generation fighter radar capacity. The F-16V also introduces a new Center Pedestal Display [CPD] which forwards critical tactical imagery to pilots on a high-resolution 6×8 screen, thereby improving the pilot’s situational awareness and increasing capacity to pinpoint and engage targets. Additionally, a revamped mission computer and electrical systems provide notable capability enhancements over the preceding F-16 models. 

Moreover, the F-16V also integrates an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System [Auto GCAS], designed to assume control of the aircraft to avert ground collisions. Such a feature proves to be instrumental in augmenting the aircraft’s safety and survivability, making it a powerful addition to Taiwan’s defense weaponry.

66 F-16s

F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jet
Photo credit: Greek Air Force

As declared by Chiu Kuo-cheng, the Defense Minister of Taiwan, on May 4, 2023, a delay in the delivery of 66 high-tech new F-16Vs from the United States has occurred due to disruptions in the supply chain. The ministry is exerting every effort to mitigate the negative effects and “address deficiencies”. Back in 2019, the United States approved an $8 billion deal for the sale of F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp to Taiwan, in a move that would increase its F-16 fleet to over 200 jets – the largest in Asia. The deal was a means to fortify its defenses as a preemptive measure against escalating threats from China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory. 

Taiwan aimed to remodel 141 F-16A/B jets into the F-16V type, and also to place an order for 66 novel F-16Vs. These were to feature state-of-the-art avionics and radar systems, along with new weapons as a measure to effectively counteract the Chinese air force, which includes the J-20 stealth fighter. 

According to the ministry, the initial batch of the new F-16Vs was scheduled for delivery in the last quarter of 2023, but due to supply chain issues resulting from the pandemic, this has been delayed until the third quarter of 2024.

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