Taiwan Crash SpArKs Calls for U.S. F-16 Sale
TAIPEI - The crash of two Vietnam War-era jets in Taiwan that killed three sparked calls Wednesday for the U.S. to sell the island new planes and save its pilots from "risking their lives" in old aircraft.
The pleas from officials and lawmakers for advanced aircraft to defend the exposed island from its giant neighbor China came as rescuers located the wreckage of the crashed jets in eastern Taiwan. All three pilots were killed.
"Flying such an aircraft is like asking a 90-year-old man to do 100 push-ups", said Lin Yu-fang, a member of the parliamentary defense committee.
The entire F-5 fleet, around 60 jets which analysts say lack both global positioning systems and advanced aviation guidance systems, has now been grounded pending an investigation.
The RF-5 surveillance aircraft and a twin-seat F-5F trainer vanished from radar screens at 7:52 pm (1152 GMT) Tuesday, 13 minutes after they took off on a training mission from an airbase near Hualien, the defense ministry said.
The military confirmed September 14 that rescuers had discovered debris and body parts where the two jets had apparently crashed into the side of a mountain.
Military officers said the incident highlighted Taiwan's need to purchase new fighters to replace its decades-old, U.S.-built F-5 fleet.
"All the F-5s have been grounded for a thorough safety check as investigation is under way. As of now, it is still not clear if the accident was the result of mechanical failure, weather or human error," defense ministry spokesman David Lo told AFP.
"This type of jet has served the air force for more than 35 years ... We really don't want our pilots to fly them risking their lives."
Two air force pilots were killed in the last crash when an F-5F ploughed into the middle of the Taiwan Strait in 2009.
The backbone of Taiwan's air force also consists of 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters, 146 U.S.-made F-16 A/Bs and 56 French-made Mirage 2000-5s.
Taipei applied in 2007 to buy 66 F-16 C/D fighters, which have better radars and more powerful weapon systems than the F-16 A/Bs, in response to China's growing military muscle, but Washington has yet to agree the sale.
"We hope the United States will sell the F-16 C/Ds as soon as possible," Lo said.
Defense News reported in August that Washington had told Taiwan it will not sell the jets, but both U.S. and Taiwan officials have insisted no final decision has been made, despite strong Chinese resistance to the sales.
Washington recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei but remains a leading arms supplier to the island.
Taipei has defended the proposed arms deal as Beijing's rapid military modernization plans have tipped the military balance in favor of the People's Liberation Army.
"It will also help maintain the balance between the two sides as Taiwan needs to have sufficient defense to have the confidence to negotiate with China," said Shuai Hua-ming of the ruling Kuomintang party.
Ties between China and Taiwan have improved since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 on promises of ramping up trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists.
But Beijing has refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan even though the island has ruled itself for more than six decades since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.
Taiwan Crash Sparks Calls for U.S. F-16 Sale - Defense News
Nice pun with the title.