In the wake of escalating tensions with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China, Taiwan has equipped its most advanced fighter squadrons with cutting-edge air-to-air missiles. The Taiwan air force announced that it has procured AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles from the United States, arming their F-16 Viper squadrons which are tasked with managing PLA fly-bys.
Delivered on schedule, these missiles have been mounted on all 64 F-16Vs of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Chiayi. The South China Morning Post reports that the upgrades enhance the precision-strike capabilities and tracking abilities of these fighter jets. A similar upgrade process is in progress for the F-16Vs at the 5th Tactical Fighter Wing in Hualien.
The AIM-9X missile, also used by the US to down a suspected Chinese spy balloon in February, brings advanced combat capabilities to Taiwan's defense. In addition to enhancing its existing 141 F-16A/B fighter jets in a collaboration with Lockheed Martin, Taiwan procured 140 AIM-9X Block II missiles from the US in 2016.
Hualien's F-16 squadrons have already received over 40 upgraded jets, with the conversions expected to conclude by the end of the year. Alongside these upgrades, the US has greenlit the sale of 66 more F-16Vs to Taiwan, with delivery anticipated in 2026.
In a move to further bolster its air defenses, Taiwan's defense ministry procured an additional 100 AIM-9X missiles in January for NT$2.4 billion (US$78.4 million), with expected delivery by 2030.
A key component of these upgrades is the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), which enables a "first look, first shot" strategy for pilots, according to the Taiwanese air force. This system, which has nighttime capabilities, allows pilots to effectively engage both airborne and ground targets using onboard weapons and sensors. However, Taiwan has only acquired 40 of these systems for its F-16V squadrons.
Taiwan's F-16 fighter jets previously utilized older AIM and AIM-120 missiles, but the US sold 200 new AIM-120 missiles to Taiwan this March. These radar-guided missiles provide all-weather, day and night operational capabilities.
The military threat from China, which views Taiwan as part of its territory, continues to mount. While Taiwan isn't officially recognized as a separate country by many nations including the US, they oppose any forced change to the status quo. Recent military exercises by the PLA near Taiwan, following a visit by former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, highlight these increasing tensions, forcing Taiwan to frequently dispatch fighter jets in response.