A fleet of 64 upgraded Lockheed Martin F-16V fighter jets have been commissioned into service by Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen.

The ceremony took place at the Republic of China Air Force’s Chiayi Air Base on November 18, 2021, Taiwanese news agency CNA reports.

Taiwan began looking for upgrades to its fleet of F-16A/Bs in 2011, after attempts to purchase newer aircraft of C and D variants fell through. Lockheed Martin began retrofitting its first aircraft with upgrades in 2017, and plans to complete the transition of Taiwan’s 141 F-16s by 2023. 

According to Lockheed Martin, the aircraft features new radar, a vastly updated cockpit and avionics, and a host of other notable upgrades. The new variant was unveiled in 2012. Since then, numerous countries, including Turkey, Greece, South Korea and Bahrain, have ordered newly-built aircraft of this type or decided to update existing F-16s of older models to the V standard.

In addition to upgrading its entire fleet, Taiwan has ordered 66 brand new F-16Vs that will be delivered by 2026.

The strengthening of Taiwan’s Air Force comes as tensions in the region continue to increase. China, which considers the island its own territory, has been flying military jets in Taiwan’s airspace on a near-daily basis.

In October 2021 Taiwan requested that the US expedite the delivery of F-16s as the Chinese incursions reached an all-time high with 149 military aircraft entering the island's airspace.

Formally, the US does not recognize Taiwan’s independence. The situation dates back to 1949, when the island became the last refuge for China’s Nationalist government following the Communist revolution. However, this has not prevented the US from providing military assistance to Taiwan as well as conducting weapons sales with the island nation. 

On November 17, the US president Joe Biden said that Taiwan must  decide if it wants formal independence, and that the US remains committed to supporting the Taiwan Relations Act, which outlines unofficial communication with the island's government. In China, Biden’s remarks were met with fury by the press. 

The Lockheed Martin F-16 remains the backbone of Taiwan’s Air Force. The country also possesses a small number of vintage Northrop F-5s, several dozen French Mirage 2000 fighters, and more than 100 domestically-designed AIDC F-CK-1 multirole jets. 

However, the country's ageing fleet of F-16s has caused some problems in recent years, including the island-wide grounding in 2020, after several aircraft of this type were lost in crashes.