Taiwan fighter jet crashes, fuelling worries about ageing fleet

TAIPEI • A Taiwanese fighter jet crashed and its pilot was killed while training over the Western Pacific, highlighting concerns about the island's ageing military fleet at a time of increased pressure from China's air force.

Rescuers are searching for a Taiwanese F-5 jet after it plunged into the sea off the east coast of Taitung county during a training exercise yesterday morning, according to a Defence Ministry spokesman.

The pilot, who had ejected and was rescued, later died despite hours of emergency treatment.

The incident fuels mounting worries about the reliability of the older aircraft in Taiwan's ageing military fleet at a time of near-daily Chinese incursions into the island's air defence identification zone (ADIZ).

Taiwan has scrambled almost 3,000 jets this year in response to approaches by more than 1,700 Chinese aircraft. Chinese jets have entered Taiwan's ADIZ 19 days in a row this month, according to Defence Ministry data.

The crash is the latest in a series of such incidents to befall Taiwan's military.

In January, the island lost its most senior uniformed officer, along with 12 others, when the helicopter they were travelling in went down in bad weather south of Taipei.

Two pilots also died when their helicopter crashed in July.

Taiwan plans to retire its F-5 jets in 2026, when the United States completes delivery on 66 F-16V jets, the Taipei-based Central News Agency reported yesterday.

Taiwan's F-5s have been in service since the mid-1970s and are now predominantly used for training. The US stopped building F-5s in 1989, leaving Taiwan struggling to find parts to keep them working.

While the US has rejected Taiwanese offers to buy F-35s, it is seeking to remedy the problem by upgrading Taiwan's fleet of newer - but not exactly cutting edge - F-16s built by Lockheed Martin.

The Trump administration signed the deal to sell Taiwan 66 F-16s in August, the first US sale of advanced jets to Taipei since President George H. W. Bush approved a deal for 150 F-16s in 1992.

China strongly protests against any US arms sales to Taiwan, and this week said it would impose sanctions on Boeing's defence unit, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies after the US State Department approved another arms sale to the island.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2020, with the headline 'Taiwan fighter jet crashes, fuelling worries about ageing fleet'. Print Edition | Subscribe