by Chen Chuanren
– November 19, 2020, 4:45 AM
The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) has grounded its entire fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs following a crash on November 17. The single-seat F-16A (serial 6672 of the 26th Tactical Fighter Group, 5th Tactical Fighter Wing) disappeared from radar shortly after taking off from Hualien air base for an evening training flight. The fate of the colonel pilot remains unknown.
The incident is the second write-off within a month in Taiwan, following the loss of a Northrop F-5E and its pilot on October 29. That accident also prompted a fleet grounding, which lasted for two weeks. The F-5Es did not resume flying until November 14.
Removing the F-16—the ROCAF’s most numerous fighter—from the island’s roster of available air defense assets will place increased strain on the units operating the AIDC F-CK-1 Ching Kuo, Dassault Mirage 2000 and F-5E. The two accidents have also raised questions concerning the ROCAF’s ability to sustain its aging fleet of fighters through protracted air defense missions against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft incursions in its air defense identification zone.
In the days leading to the F-16 crash, the PLA has continuously deployed various reconnaissance versions of the Shaanxi Y-8 on patrol flights over the Bashi Channel, south of the island of Taiwan.
“I have asked the defense ministry not to relax a bit on defense and combat readiness to ensure national security,” President Tsai Ing-wen told local media. Defense Minister Yen De-fa reported to the cabinet in October that the air force had scrambled 2,972 times against PLA aircraft over the first nine months of 2020, or around 11 sorties daily, costing it NT$25.5 billion ($886.49 million).
Photo credit: 6672 was the F-16A lost on November 17. The ROCAF has two wings of around 150 F-16As, including some RF-16s for reconnaissance. (Photo: ROC Ministry of Defense)