An F-16 fighter jet that went missing during a training exercise has probably crashed into sea, Taiwanese officials have said. The loss of the F16 is a severe blow for Taiwan, which is permanently on alert over recurring violations of its air space by the Chinese military.
The latest accident will raise concerns about the dependability of Taiwan's fleet of older aircraft, besides dealing a blow to the morale of the armed forces that are always on alert against possible Chinese aggression.
Taiwan scrambled almost 3,000 fighter planes this year alone amid increasing aggression from Chinese military, a Bloomberg report noted. Defense Minister Yen De-fa told the parliament last month that the nation's air forces dealt with as many as 1,700 cases of aggression by Chinese aircraft.
Taiwan Orders More F-16s Despite China Opposition
The F-16 fighter jet lost contact with the Hualien Air Base on Taiwan's east coast barely two minutes after take--off, authorities had said earlier. The accident happened late Tuesday, during a night training session. Before contact was lost, the fighter had gained more than 6,000 feet.
The disappearance of the fighter aircraft came at a time when tensions with China have peaked. Beijing has opposed the US sale of F-16s to Taiwan, which it claims is a renegade region of China. Despite Chinese pressure, Taiwan signed a deal in August to buy new F-16 jets. The delivery of the new batch of the fighters has not started yet.
The fighter that went missing in the latest mishap belongs to the batch acquired over two decades ago from the US.
President Tsai Orders Grounding of F-16s
In the aftermath of the incident, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen ordered the air force to ground all F-16s to perform maintenance checks. "I am asking all agencies not to give up the rescue mission and to make it their top priority ... I am demanding a thorough examination of military equipment. We are offering our military the greatest support," Tsai said.
Taiwan has lost seven F-16s since 1988, according to the South China Morning Post. Two years ago, an F-16 fighter crashed into the mountains near Taipei, killing the pilot. F-16s form a key component Taiwan' air forces. The island nation has 142 F-16A and F-16B jets.
Last month, a Taiwanese F-5E jet fell into the sea just during a training exercise. The pilot died in the mishap.