Taiwan’s air force has grounded its F-16 fleet after losing a plane on a training mission, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters, Tsai said, “I have asked the defence ministry not to relax on defence and combat readiness to ensure national security.”
The defence ministry called on media not to speculate on what happened to the plane, adding that missions need to continue in view of the ongoing threat from China. “In response to the increasingly severe situation in the Taiwan Strait, the military has continued to strengthen combat readiness training to ensure national security,” it said in a statement.
This is the second loss of a fighter jet in less than a month at a time of increased missions to intercept Chinese aircraft. An F-5 – a jet which first entered service in Taiwan in the 1970s – crashed in late October, reports Asia One.
While Taiwan’s air force is well trained and well equipped, mostly with US-made equipment, it is dwarfed by China’s. Beijing claims the democratic island as its own and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Chinese control.
Last month, Taiwan’s defence minister said nearly US$1 billion had been spent this year on scrambling the air force against Chinese incursions, saying they are facing “great pressure”.
The loss of the F-16 is Taiwan’s fourth military crash this year. In January, the country’s top military official was among eight people killed after a helicopter carrying them crashed in a mountainous area near the capital Taipei.
The US last year approved the sale of more 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.