ROC AIR FORCE POSTPONES INTRODUCTION OF F-16'S INTO ACTIVE SERVICE
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ROC AIR FORCE POSTPONES INTRODUCTION OF F-16'S INTO ACTIVE SERVICE

Taipei, Aug. 18 (CNA) Prompted by another crash of a US-made F-16 jet fighter on Wednesday, the Republic of China Air Force announced the postponement of plans to introduce the fighters, which are still being evaluated, into active service, while pilot training will be extended from six months to eight, according to sources from the Ministry of National Defense (MND).

The introduction of the fighters into the ROC's combat forces will definitely be delayed, MND officials noted.

National Defense Minister Tang Fei, who was formerly commander-in-chief of the ROC Air Force, instructed the Air Force General Headquarters (AFGH) to review plans to introduce the fighters into service, as well as pilot training, after Wednesday's crash.

Major Lin Keng-sheng parachuted to safety on Wednesday morning after his second attempt to land his single-seater F-16 A failed. Returning from a routine training mission, Lin discovered he was unable to obtain thrust from his plane's engine, and ejected after efforts to correct the malfunction proved ineffective.

The fighter, one of the 44 F-16s stationed at the Chiayi airbase, crashed some 1.8 kilometers south of the air base runway.

Tang also asked the AFGH to determine whether there are any similarities among the four accidents in the past 17 months involving twin-seater F-16 B's and single-seater F-16 A's.

Mechanical and design problems could be behind the tragic incidents, Tang said, though he stressed that attempts to introduce them into service too quickly may also have played a role.

Tang expressed particular concern over pilot training. He said it is questionable whether ROC Air Force pilots, despite their commendable physical and mental ability, can be adequately trained to pilot the fighters in only six months. Noting that six months is the required training period for US pilots, Tang said a variety of factors, including language problems and training environments, could make a longer training period necessary.

Tang assured the government and the public that even if the introduction of the F-16's into active service is delayed, it will not affect the ROC Air Force's defensive capabilities.

With the delivery and commissioning of 60 French-made Mirage 2000-5 jet fighters, and the introduction of 130 locally developed Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs) into service, there are absolutely no gaps in the ROC's air defenses, Tang said. (By Deborah Kuo)