The US Department of Defense recently revealed that its Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Taiwanese F-16 pilots have historically participated in a joint international F-16 pilot training program, will now only be used for F-35 training programs.
Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) has therefore requested that its joint F-16 training program be relocated to a new “coastline” location on the US Pacific coast that better represents Taiwan’s geography.
In addition, Taiwan is hopeful that its pilots will be allowed to participate in combat maneuver simulations against aircraft carrier-based warplanes that represent China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) carriers, according to Taiwanese news outlet the Liberty Times.
The MND is also hoping to relocate its F-16 pilots to an Air Force base where Taiwanese pilots can train with a US Navy aircraft carrier group, which would better simulate a potential confrontation with China in the highly contested waters of the Taiwan Strait.
In addition, the MND prefers that carrier-based F-18 aircraft become part of the joint training program at the new location. If the Pentagon denies the military’s request to establish a new training program with US naval forces near the US Pacific coast, the MND’s second choice would be an Air Force base where Taiwanese pilots can train with electronic warfare technologies. The change in the F-16 joint training location comes as China’s first ever domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is in the process of completing its sea trials. The 65,000-tonne aircraft was launched in April 2017 and has since undergone at least six rounds of sea trials.
Beijing considers self-governing Taiwan - lying just 100 miles or so off the Chinese mainland - to be part of its territory and claims sovereignty over the island. In recent months, the US Navy has increased its activities in the Taiwan Strait, sailing through the strategic waterway to demonstrate the US’ commitment to freedom of navigation in the region, especially as Beijing-Washington relations have faltered amid the ongoing trade war.