In an exercise simulating a war situation, Taiwanese air force planes blasted into the sky on Wednesday, demonstrating the country’s battle readiness despite rising military tensions with China, which claims the island as its own.
As an alert sounded just before takeoff, flight crews at a facility in the southern city of Chiayi – home to US-made F-16 fighter jets that are routinely dispatched to confront Chinese warplanes – hurried to get their planes ready.
The drill was part of a three-day exercise to demonstrate Taiwan’s combat readiness ahead of the Lunar New Year break at the end of the month.
Tensions across the sensitive Taiwan Strait have been rising in the past few years, with Taiwan complaining of repeated missions by China’s air force near the democratic island.
Chinese military aircraft frequently fly into the southwestern part of its air defense identification zone (ADIZ), airspace around the island that Taiwan monitors and patrols.
“With the very high frequency of Communist planes entering our ADIZ, pilots from our wing are very experienced and have dealt with almost all types of their aircraft,” Major Yen Hsiang-sheng told reporters, recalling a mission in which he was dispatched to intercept Chinese J-16 fighters late last year.
China has not ruled out using force to bring Taiwan under its control.
Taiwan has termed China’s activities as “grey zone” warfare, designed to both wear out Taiwan’s forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test its responses.
In a new year message for China last week, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said military conflict is not the answer. Beijing responded with a stern warning that if Taiwan crossed any red line it would lead to “profound catastrophe”.