Taiwan has grounded all of its F16 fighter jets for security screening as rescuers continue to search for one that disappeared during a training drill, authorities said Wednesday.
The decision removes around 150 planes from Taiwan’s skies, leaving the Democratic island to rely on an still limited fleet to warn Chinese jets that they have been flying at unprecedented speeds in recent months.
The Air Force said a single-seat F16 flown by a 44-year-old pilot disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from Hualien Air Force Base in eastern Taiwan on Tuesday evening at an altitude of 1,800 meters.
The disappearance comes less than three weeks after a pilot died when his F-5E fighter plane crashed into the sea during exercise, creating a similar grounding.
“The rescue mission is now the top priority. The Air Force has grounded all F16s for checks, and I have ordered an investigation into the cause of the incident,” President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters.
Taiwan lives under constant threat of invasion by China, which regards the island as its own territory and has vowed to take it by force one day if necessary.
The fleet of fighters is old and is massively surpassed by China’s. Excluding the F16, it consists of the locally built indigenous defensive fighter, the France-built Mirages from the late 1990s, and the F5-E fighters from the 1970s.
Since Taiwan took over the US-purchased fighters in 1997, there have been seven F16 crashes.
Taiwan has messed up its planes twice as fast as last year to protect itself from increasing incursions by China into its defense zone.
According to analysts, Beijing’s flyby is designed to test the island’s defensive responses, but also to wear down the fighters, who are getting closer to decay with each deployment.
Taiwan’s military was hit by a number of plane crashes that year.
In January, eight high-ranking officials, including the chief of staff, were killed in a helicopter crash.
Beijing has exerted military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan since the election of President Tsai in 2016, including for refusing to recognize its stance that the island is part of “one China”.
Under U.S. President Donald Trump, Washington approved roughly $ 18 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, including 66 new-generation F16s and advanced missile platforms – sales that have angered Beijing.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)