Taiwan’s forces strain in China’s ‘war of attrition’
>>KAOHSIUNG: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited a low-key but critical maintenance base for fighter jet engines yesterday, offering encouragement as the Chinese-claimed island’s armed forces strain in the face of repeated Chinese air force incursions.
This month alone, China’s drills have included its jets crossing the mid-line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait and exercising near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a wayward province and has never renounced the use of force to bring the democratic island under its control.
Taiwan’s air force has repeatedly scrambled to intercept Chinese jets. Though they have not flown over mainland Taiwan itself, the flights have ramped up pressure, both financial and physical, on Taiwan’s air force to ensure its aircraft are ready to go at any moment.
Visiting the Gangshan air base in southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung, Ms Tsai received a detailed account of how the maintenance crew is making sure Taiwan’s F-16 and other fighters are operating at peak performance.
She appeared slightly take n aback when told the cost of one small component for the F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defence Fighter was T$380,000 (410,000 baht).
Speaking later to sailors at the nearby Zuoying naval base, Ms Tsai promised to be the strongest backer of the island’s armed forces.
“If there was no backup or help from you all, the military’s steadfast combat strength would be greatly reduced,” she said.
Taiwan’s air force is dwarfed by China’s, and the strain of the multiple sorties on Taiwan’s armed forces have begun to show.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry this month said the “dramatic increase” in the threat level, along with the aircraft being “middle-aged” had led to a huge increase in maintenance costs not originally budgeted for.
Saldik Fafana, 21, a trainee air force engineer at the Gangshan base, said he had noticed an impact recently. “There is more work,” he told reporters.
The United States last year approved an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.