Taiwan today grounded its F-16 jet fleet, the most advanced in its air force, after one of them went missing on November 17.
The F-16s were off Taiwan’s skies after a single-seat variant disappeared from radars two minutes after taking off from Hualien Air Base on Tuesday night.
The grounding of nearly 150 jets comes at a time of increasing Chinese threats which wants to "unify" the renegade island by force. As recently as on Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Taiwan was an inalienable part of China, following U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comment that “Taiwan has not been a part of China.”
This leaves the Air Force with only locally-built Indigenous Defence Fighter, French Mirages from the late 1990s and F5-E fighters that date back to the 1970s. The incident comes three weeks after 46 Taiwanese F-5E jets were grounded after one of them crashed allegedly due to engine failure. The jets resumed operations only on Monday.
The service has so far lost 7 F-16s to crashes since the aircraft began arriving in the 1990s.
Taiwan’s Phoenix Rising Program to Modernize its F-16 Fighters
Taiwan is upgrading its fleet of F-16 A/B Block 20 Fighting Falcon jets to the F-16V configuration. The $5 billion project is expected to be completed by 2023.
As part of the upgrade, the jets will be installed with Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 SABR AESA radar, new mission computers, and more advanced avionics and electronic warfare suite. The upgraded jet will also have the capability to be armed with new precision-guided weapons.
The U.S. State Department approved the FMS sale of 66 F-16C/D Block 70 fighters, along with related equipment and support, to Taiwan for an estimated cost of $8 billion.