Taiwan has grounded its entire fleet of about 140 US-made F-16 fighters after one of the aircraft crashed during a training mission Nov 17. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said the single-seat F-16 disappeared from radar screens over the Pacific Ocean two minutes after taking off from Hualien Air Base, on the main island’s east coast.
President Tsai Ing-wen said all of the country’s F-16 fighters would be grounded pending investigation into the crash. Despite the grounding, Tsai said Taiwan’s forces would remain ready to defend the island. “The defence and combat readiness tasks must not be relaxed a bit to ensure national security,” she said.
The F-16s represent about half of Taiwan’s fighter fleet, which has been on the alert in recent months as aircraft from China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force regularly entered the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) prompting intercepts from fighter jets to track suspected intrusions. The latest mishap was the second involving a Taiwanese fighter in a month after one of its ageing F-5E fighters crashed in late October.
China which regard the island as a renegade province claims sovereignty over Taiwan – also known as Republic of China — which have been governed by separate administration since the end of a civil war in 1949. Last month Taiwan’s defence ministry reportedly said it had spent nearly $900 million this year scrambling fighters against Chinese incursions.
The F-16 Fighting Falcons represent one of Taiwan’s key defence arm against any possible Chinese military actions against it, and Taipei is looking to add newer, upgraded models to boost the capabilities of the RoC Air Force (RoCAF). In late August, it finalised the procurement of 66 latest model F-16s in a $62 bn deal, the biggest US arms sale to Taiwan in years. The aircraft involved is the F-16 C/D Block 70/72, known as the F-16V “Viper”. The country has also been upgrading the air force’s earlier model F-16s to Viper or V standard.
The country also launched a new maintenance centre for the aircraft type in the central city of Taichung. The hub will be headed by Lockheed Martin and Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) of Taiwan.–shp/mgm (Photo: MND/RoCAF)