Taiwan has grounded all its F16 fighter jets for security checks as rescuers continue to search for a missing person during training, authorities said Wednesday.
The decision removes about 150 planes from Taiwan’s skies, leaving the Democratic Island to rely on a more limited fleet to warn Chinese planes that are making overpasses at unprecedented speeds in recent months.
The Air Force said a single-seater F1
The disappearance comes less than three weeks after the pilot was killed when his F-5E fighter crashed into the sea during training, causing a similar grounding.
“The rescue mission is our top priority now. “The Air Force has landed all F16s for inspections and I have commissioned an investigation into the cause of the incident,” President Tsai Yingwen told reporters.
Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which views the island as its territory and has promised to take it one day, by force if necessary.
The fleet of fighters is outdated and superior to the Chinese. Without the F16s, it consists of a locally built local defensive fighter, a French-built Mirages from the late 1990s and F5-E fighters dating back to the 1970s.
There have been seven F16 crashes since Taiwan delivered fighter jets purchased from the United States in 1997.
Taiwan shuffled its planes twice as fast as last year to protect itself from increased Chinese incursions into its defense zone.
Analysts say Beijing’s overflights are designed to test the island’s defenses, but also to deplete its fighters, which are approaching the end of the flight with each outing.
The Taiwanese army was defeated by a series of air crashes this year.
In January, a helicopter crash killed eight senior officials, including the chief of staff.
Beijing has put military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan since President Tsai’s election in 2016, in part because of its refusal to recognize his position that the island is part of “one China.”
Under US President Donald Trump, Washington allowed $ 18 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, including 66 new generations of F16s and modern missile platforms – sales that angered Beijing.