Officials said on Wednesday that Taiwan had frozen all of its F16 fighter jets for a security check as the search for a missing person during training exercises continued.
The decision removes around 150 planes from Taiwan’s skies, forcing the Democratic Island to rely on even smaller fleets to warn Chinese jets which have been buzzing at an unprecedented rate in recent months.
The Air Force said the single-seater F16 was flown by a 44-year-old pilot who disappeared from radar at an altitude of 6,000 feet (1,800 m) two minutes after flying from Hulien Air Base in the east Taiwan Tuesday night.
A pilot goes missing less than three weeks after his death when his F-5E fighter plane crashes into the sea during training, due to a similar grounding.
President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters: “Rescue operations are now our top priority. The Air Force sent all the F16s to investigate and I led an investigation into the cause of the incident. ”
Taiwan remains under constant threat of an invasion from China, which views the island as its territory and has vowed to someday seize it by force if necessary.
Its fleet of hunters is old and widely distributed in China. Without the F16s, this includes the locally built native defense fighters, the French-built Mirage and F5-E of the late 1990s, dating to the 1970s.
Since the receipt of the fighter jets purchased from the United States in 1997, there have been seven F16 accidents.
Taiwan doubled the rate last year to protect its planes from China’s increased incursion into the defensive zone.
Analysts say the Beijing flyovers are designed to test the island’s defense responses, but to exhaust its fighters, who come closer with each sortie.
The Taiwanese military has suffered a series of air accidents this year.
In January, eight senior officers, including the Chief of Staff, were killed in a helicopter crash.
Beijing has exerted military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan since the election of President Tsai in 2016 because of its refusal to accept the position that the island is part of “One China”.
Under US President Donald Trump, Washington authorized an $ 18 billion price tag for arms sales to Taiwan, including 66 next-generation F16s and advanced missile platforms – sales that angered Beijing .
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)