Taiwan Halts Training on US-Made F-16V Viper Fighters After Jet Crashes into Sea, Pilot Missing
18:57 GMT 11.01.2022 (Updated: 19:09 GMT 03.11.2022)
Taiwan’s air force has grounded its entire fleet of F-16 fighters after one of its most advanced models plummeted into the sea on Tuesday afternoon, seemingly taking its pilot with it.
According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA), an F-16V “Viper” fighter disappeared off radar screens at 3:23 pm on Tuesday afternoon, about 30 minutes after taking off from Chiayi Air Base in southern Taiwan.
Visibility was good at the time of the crash, with visibility up to 7 nautical miles, Taiwanese Maj. Gen. Liu Hui-chien told reporters. A civilian observer on land reportedly saw the plane plummet into the sea, as did another Taiwanese pilot. The crashing pilot, Captain Chen Yi, was not seen ejecting from his aircraft before impact.
“The pilot was practicing simulated air-to-ground blasting, and visibility at that time was fine,” Liu told reporters. “When he proceeded to the part which required him to fire at a 20-degree angle, his plane rapidly slanted into the sea.”
Lui said that safety checks were being conducted on all of Taiwan’s 140 F-16 fighters and a round-the-clock search for Chen was taking place.
Surface water temperature in the northernmost parts of the South China Sea where Chen crashed remains fairly uniform year-round at around 28.8 degrees Celsius, meaning if he survived the crash, Chen at least won’t face a danger of hypothermia.
The aircraft, identified as serial number 6650, was delivered to Taiwan by the United States in December 1998 as an F-16A Falcon - one of the earliest models designed by General Dynamics in the 1970s, but sold to Taiwan as a second-rate fighter in the 1990s. However, under a 2017 deal, the US was in the process of upgrading 144 of Taiwan’s older F-16 fighters to become F-16V “Vipers,” which included new avionics, radar, various cockpit improvements, and an automated ground collision avoidance system.
© AP Photo / Republic of China (ROC) Ministry of National DefenseIn this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo and released by the Republic of China (ROC) Ministry of National Defense, a Taiwanese Air Force F-16 in foreground flies on the flank of a Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) H-6 bomber as it passes near Taiwan
In this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo and released by the Republic of China (ROC) Ministry of National Defense, a Taiwanese Air Force F-16 in foreground flies on the flank of a Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) H-6 bomber as it passes near Taiwan
© AP Photo / Republic of China (ROC) Ministry of National Defense
The jet that crashed on Tuesday had recently finished its upgrades to F-16V status, the island’s de facto defense ministry said. It was the first crash of a Viper, but the eighth major accident involving a Taiwanese F-16 since 1998. In six instances, the pilot was either killed or unaccounted for.
According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the crashed jet was one of 24 Vipers recently commissioned by the Taiwanese air force to boost its air defense. The autonomous island regularly scrambles its fighter jets to confront Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft flying from mainland China through airspace that Taiwan claims as its own. Such air defense identification zones (ADIZs) have no grounding in international law and the confrontations take place in international airspace, but are regularly reported in the western press as being “provocative” violations of Taiwanese airspace.
The more advanced jets have been rushed into service to confront Chinese fighters like the J-20, which outclass any aircraft used by the Taiwanese but which the PLAAF presently only has in small numbers.
The government in Taipei is all that remains of the Republic of China formed in 1912 when the last Chinese emperor abdicated the throne. In 1949, a decades-long civil war with the insurgent Red Army led to the Republic’s defeat on the mainland, the establishment of a socialist People’s Republic of China in Beijing, and the PRC’s claim to be the new and sole legitimate Chinese government and that Taiwan is a Chinese province in rebellion. However, the RoC continues to claim it is the real Chinese government.
Gradually, most nations have switched their recognition from the Taipei government to Beijing, including the US, which signed a series of agreements in the 1970s and 1980s stipulating its agreement with the One China Policy. However, Washington has continued to informally support the Taiwanese government, including selling it billions of dollars of weapons to fend off a theoretical Chinese invasion.
In addition to upgrading Taiwan’s older F-16s to be Viper equivalents, the US has also agreed to sell Taiwan 66 factory-built Viper fighter jets.
In October 2020, Taiwan also grounded all of its Northrop F-15E Tiger II jets, another fighter sold to them by the US in the 1990s, after one crashed moments after takeoff. The pilot drowned after getting tangled in his parachute during ejection.