F-16 FIGHTERS RESUME SERVICE
Taipei, July 21 (CNA) The Republic of China's Air Force General Headquarters (AFGH) announced on Wednesday that all of its F-16 jet fighters have completed comprehensive security checks and resumed training flights.
The announcement came at a time when relations across the Taiwan Strait were strained over ROC President Lee Teng-hui's "state-to-state" theory.
Air force authorities, however, denied that the resumption of F-16 training flights has anything to do with the recent cross-strait tension.
"We have ordered the resumption of training flights only after each F-16 fighter has passed stringent security inspection and testing," said an AFGH official.
Defense Minister Tang Fei, who once served as Air Force commander-in-chief, ordered an across-the-board review of F-16 mechanical systems and training operations after a single-seat F-16 lost contact off southeastern Taiwan coast during a nighttime training flight on June 1.
It was the third F-16-related flight accident since the ROC Air Force began to take delivery of the US-made advanced warplane.
Acting on Tang's order, the AFGH immediately grounded all F-16s for comprehensive security inspections. Air Force authorities also ordered an extension of the mandatory pilot training period from six months to eight months with a view to upgrading pilots' capabilities to operate the high-performance jet fighters.
With the completion of security examinations and testing, AFGH officials said F-16 flight training courses were fully resumed from Wednesday.
The ROC Air Force has purchased 150 F-16s as part of its efforts to beef up air defense capabilities. The air force plans to form two F-16 wings to be stationed at the Chiayi air base in southern Taiwan and the Hualien air base in the eastern part of the island, respectively.
According to the AFGH military modernization plan, the Chiayi F-16 wing will comprise four squadrons while the Hualien wing will have three squadrons. A total of four squadrons, one in Hualien and three in Chiayi, have so far been commissioned.
The US-made F-16s are all-weather, multifunctional warplanes. They can not only intercept invading enemy planes at high altitudes but also attack targets on ground. F-16s have become mainstream planes in the ROC's air fleet. (By Sofia Wu)