Taiwan lost two fighter jets on Monday after they collided and crashed during a training mission off eastern Pingtung County. The pilots ejected to safety after the F-5E fighter aircraft collided midair.
This is the third accident involving Taiwanese fighter jets in the last six months, local media reported. The jets crashed into the sea off the island's southeastern coast following the apparent collision.
Taiwan depends on the United States for most of its military hardware. The F-5 fighters that crashed on Monday were built in the US. They entered service in Taiwan in the late 1970s are mostly used only in training sorties.
The country's emergency rescue agency said military helicopters and coast guard vessels are looking for the pilots. They have been identified as Pan and Lo (surnames) Focus Taiwan reported, citing National Rescue Command Center (NRCC).
The mishap comes at a particularly stressful time for Taiwan, with China increasing pressure on the self-ruled island by ramping up military activities and provocative sorties around the air boundaries. It has been reported that China, which enjoys several-fold bigger defense outlays, is trying to wear down Taiwanese resources. Each time China sends its fighters around the island, Taiwan is forced to scramble its jets. Chinese strategists have been reportedly using this tactic to pile avoidable pressure on Taiwanese air battle resources.
The Taiwanese defence ministry has not issued a statement yet, but is expected to make public comments about the situation. According to the Central News Agency, the official news agency of Taiwan, the air force has grounded the F-5 fleet that operates from the Chihhang air base.
In another major air mishap in Taiwan, another F-5 fighter had crashed in October, killing the pilot. In November, yet another fighter jet, this time a F-16, crashed off Taiwan's east coast.
China Increases Pressure
The PLA's intimidation of Taiwan has increased in the recent years. In 2020, PLA fighter planes carried out sorties near the Taiwan border early all days. In one instance, as many as 37 PLA aircraft flew close to the Taiwanese side of the Strait, defying norms followed hitherto by both the sides. In another instance of increasing aggression, the Chinese media once said that the military exercise was not a warning, but a 'rehearsal' for the eventual Taiwan takeover.
China considers self-ruling Taiwan as a renegade province and hasn't abandoned the possibility of using force to annex the island. The power balance tilted in Beijing's favour back in the early 1970s when the United States recognized the People's Republic of China and started diplomatic relations with Beijing.