An F-16 fighter jet takes off from an air base in Taiwan.  Upgrading the island's existing F-16 fleet to the latest V configuration is a key part of the United States' arms sales and transfer of defense technologies.  Photo: AFP
An F-16 fighter jet takes off from an air base in Taiwan. Photo: AFP

Taiwan’s Air Force may requisition some sections of the island’s highway network for emergency landings and take-offs by its fighters including the F-16s, Mirage 2000s and C-130 Hercules, during this year’s anti-Chinese invasion drill.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported on Tuesday that a section of National Highway No 1, a north-south artery running along the island’s west coast from Taipei to Kaohsiung, could be closed starting from April for landing and warplane repair and maintenance operations as part of the annual Han Kuang exercise.

Emergency landings and take-offs by jet fighters and other warplanes will be reinstated in this year’s exercise, in a bid to hone the skills of pilots to make use of Taiwan’s extensive highways to assist emergent response and withdrawal in the event of a full-blown war. Taiwan has almost 1,000 kilometers of highways with at least four lanes and hardened road surfaces.

A file photo showing a C130 Hercules on a highway. Photo: WikiMedia

Emergency runways have been designed along parts of the island’s highways to allow landings, take-offs and refueling during wartime, especially when key airfields are rendered disfunctional by an adversary’s bombardment.

These sections, also known as highway strips, were specially built to act as runways for military aircraft and to serve as an auxiliary military air base to allow military aircraft to continue operating even if their regular air bases, some of the most vulnerable targets in any war, were degraded or destroyed.

These strips are usually straight sections of highway measuring no less than two kilometers with a thicker than normal surface and a solid concrete base, where any central reservation is made of crash barriers that can be easily removed to allow warplanes to use the whole width of a highway. Specialized equipment for a typical airfield is stored somewhere nearby. Motorways can be converted to airstrips within 24 to 48 hours.

The F-16, the buttress of Taiwan’s air defense and emergency response, can take off and land on short airstrips without extra retrofitting as the space needed for landing aircraft is reduced by means of a wire, similar to the catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery systems used on some aircraft carriers.

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