Taiwan says software problems delaying new F-16 deliveries

12 F-16V fighter jets perform an elephant walk during an annual New Year's drill in Chiayi

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Software problems are delaying the delivery to Taiwan of 66 advanced new F-16V fighter jets from the United States but the island still expects the full order to arrive by 2026, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Thursday.

The United States in 2019 approved an $8 billion sale of Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a deal that would take the island's F-16 fleet to more than 200 jets, the largest in Asia, to strengthen its defences in the face of a stepped up threat from China, which claims Taiwan as its own.

Chiu earlier this month said the 66 F-16Vs had been delayed due to supply chain disruptions, but on Thursday further explained the problem was linked to flight control software issues and they were working to address this with the United States.

"In principle by 2026 the 66 aircraft will all arrive, there is absolutely no problem with this," he told reporters at parliament.

In a statement late on Wednesday his ministry said the software development process had been delayed, and that Lockheed Martin had already this year rolled out two prototype F-16Vs, one of which was from a separate order from Bahrain.

Lockheed Martin said in an emailed statement it "is working closely with the U.S. Government to address challenges in support of U.S. security cooperation objectives". It did not elaborate.

Chiu said they were concerned about the delay but that communication with the United States on the issue was "smooth".

Taiwan has been converting 141 F-16A/B jets into the F-16V type and has in addition ordered 66 new F-16Vs, which have advanced avionics, weapons and radar systems to better face down the Chinese air force, including its J-20 stealth fighter.

Taiwan has since last year complained of delays to U.S. weapons deliveries, such as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, as manufacturers turn supplies to Ukraine as it battles invading Russian forces, and the issue has concerned U.S. lawmakers.

Congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a visit to Taipei last month that he was doing everything possible to speed up arms deliveries.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Diane Craft)