Taiwan unveiled its most advanced fighter jet, the missile-equipped F-16V, in a rare nighttime demonstration in the wake of China’s unprecedented military drills around the island.
Chinese forces have staged days of air and sea military drills in the Taiwan Strait this month after visits to the self-governed island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation.
Taipei has carried out its own drills to simulate defence against invasion by China and on Wednesday air force personnel loaded an F-16V fighter with a US-made anti-ship missile in a “combat readiness” exercise at an airbase in eastern Hualien county.
Reporters were shown ground crews demonstrating how they rapidly upload weapons onto F-16s, including Boeing Co’s Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Six F-16Vs later took off for night reconnaissance and training missions, including two armed with missiles, according to Taiwan’s air force.
“In the face of the threat from Chinese communist forces’ recent military exercises, we have stayed vigilant while establishing the concept of ‘battlefields everywhere and training anytime’ … to ensure national security,” the air force said in a statement.
Defence ministry spokesperson Sun Li-fang said that while Taipei condemned China’s actions in recent days, the situation was a good chance for Taiwan’s forces to hone their skills.
“We will seize this opportunity to test all the training we normally do, and through this improve our current methods and raise our combat effectiveness,” he said.
“The Republic of China’s forces are confident, capable, and determined to defend the safety of the Republic of China,” Sun added, using Taiwan’s formal name.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has said the self-ruled island is not seeking to provoke or escalate tensions with Beijing.
Taiwan lives under constant threat of an invasion by China, which claims the democratically ruled island as part of its territory to be seized one day, by force if necessary.
Taipei has accused Beijing of using the trip by Pelosi – the highest-ranking elected US official to visit in decades – as an excuse to kick-start drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion.
Taiwan has been upgrading its ageing fleet of fighters in recent years, as fear of military action by Beijing has risen and as its air force is kept under constant pressure by more frequent Chinese incursions into the island’s air defence zone.
In November, the island deployed its first squadron of US-made F-16Vs – an upgraded and much more sophisticated version of its other F-16 fighters, which date back to the 1990s.
The F-16V deal was approved by the administration of then US President Donald Trump as he feuded with China on a host of issues, but his successor Joe Biden has maintained similar support for Taipei.
The Hualien airbase, which has hangers cut out of the side of a mountain, has two pilots on duty at any one time sitting in their flight suits and able to be in the air within six minutes.