Taiwan’s military is open to the option of stationing a squadron of fighter jets year-around in Penghu, a Taiwan-controlled archipelago in the Taiwan Strait off the west coast of the main island, as a response to Beijing’s recent unilateral action to open new commercial flight routes in the strait, an official from the Taiwanese air force told the semi-official Central News Agency (CNA) on Saturday.
A separate report by the Liberty Times said the Taiwanese Defense Ministry was considering stationing Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) jets, program name of the F-CK-1 Ching-kuo fighters modeled on the US-made F-16, in the offshore county of Penghu full-time as opposed to only during the summer months.
Doing so would be for national defense purposes, the report said.
A Taiwanese air force official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CNA in response to that report that if there is a need for a full-time presence, it can be arranged, noting that stationing the IDF jets year-around in Penghu’s Magong Airport is one of the options for strengthening national defense capabilities.
Currently, a squadron of IDF jets is stationed there during summer, normally between April and October, to fend off any incursion into Taiwan’s airspace by mainland China’s People’s Liberation Army.
These fighters stationed in the outpost of Penghu would be able to detect and intercept forthcoming Chinese warplanes before they entered Taiwan’s air defense zone, taking advantage of the archipelago’s proximity to the Chinese coast.
The strong northeasterly monsoon winds in the area during winter can create unfavorable conditions for light fighter planes, so it is currently of little use to have fighter jets there, the official said. However, he noted that because of global warming, winter in Penghu has become less windy, so the military will station the jets there year-around if needed.
Last week China’s Civil Aviation Administration announced its unilateral decision to open Route M503 and other commercial flight routes near the centerline of the Taiwan Strait, the sea and air border between Taiwan and mainland China.
Yet a spokesman for the Taiwan Defense Ministry rushed to refute reports of any such deployment, saying the idea is “purely speculative and unrealistic.”
In a statement, the Republic of China Air Force reiterated that Taiwan’s military had everything under control and was not intimidated by Beijing’s menacing, stressing that the air force has the capacity to prevent any intrusions into Taiwan’s airspace and will deter any aircraft from crossing the centerline of the strait.
But PLA analysts have said this denial can be seen as a sign that some technical issues need to be tackled before the lightweight Taiwan-made fighters can take off and land in Penghu during winter.
The National Security Council held a meeting last Friday to discuss the effects of Beijing’s decision to open Route M503 and other connecting routes to northbound commercial flights.
The Ministry of National Defense was asked to offer viable measures to strengthen aerial defenses not only over the Taiwan Strait but also above waters close to the Bashi Channel, a waterway usually frequented by mainland Chinese bombers and spy planes en route to their circumnavigation missions around the island.