Wednesday, 18 November 2020 10:33 AM
Taiwan has grounded its F-16 fleet after one of the US-made jets vanished minutes after taking off from an air base on the east coast of the self-ruled island.
The air force said a single-seat F-16 flown by a 44-year-old pilot disappeared from radar at an altitude of 1,800 meters two minutes after taking off from Hualien air base in eastern Taiwan on Tuesday night.
Following the incident, president Tsai Ing-wen announced the grounding of about 150 planes.
"The rescue mission is our top priority now," she said on Wednesday. "The air force has grounded all F-16s for checks and I’ve instructed an investigation into the cause of the incident."
The defense ministry also called on the media not to speculate on what has happened to the jet.
"In response to the increasingly severe situation in the Taiwan Strait, the military has continued to strengthen combat readiness training to ensure national security," said the ministry, apparently referring to tensions with mainland China.
This would be the second loss of a fighter jet in less than a month in Taiwan. Less than three weeks ago, a pilot was killed when his F-5E fighter jet crashed into the sea during training.
The latest loss is also the fourth military crash in Taiwan this year.
Tsai promised to modernize the island’s military while unveiling a US-backed maintenance hub for upgraded F-16 fighters in August. She said back then that Taipei will not be "bowing and cringing" to China over Taiwan’s "sovereignty."
China opposes any official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan. It has sovereignty over Taiwan; and under the "One China" policy, almost all world countries â€” including the United States â€” recognize that sovereignty.
Nevertheless, Washington is the island’s largest weapons supplier and an avid backer of Taiwan’s secessionist president.
The United States last year approved the 8-billion-dollar sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a deal that would expand the island’s F-16 fleet to more than 200 jets.
The Tsai government also signed a 62-billion-dollar deal earlier this year to purchase F-16 fighter jets from the US.
Under the deal, Washington agreed to sell 90 F-16 fighter jets, manufactured by American aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin, to Taiwan over a span of about 10 years.
The administration of President Donald Trump has been lately pushing for the sale of seven large packages of weapons to Taiwan. The packages, including long-range air-to-ground missiles, would be one of the largest weapons sales to the self-ruled island in recent years.
China has repeatedly warned Washington against ties with Taiwan.