By Aleksander Solum and Ann Wang
HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwanese F-16 fighter jets roared into the night sky on Wednesday in a show of force before the media, demonstrating the military’s determination to defend the democratically-ruled island from days of Chinese war games .
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, has conducted military exercises on the island following a visit earlier this month by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in which they to follow on Sunday and Monday five American legislators.
Pelosi’s visit angered China, which responded by test-firing ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time and sending warships and fighter jets close to Taiwan, although the scale of the activities has greatly reduced
On a government-arranged trip to the key Hualien Air Base on Taiwan’s mountainous east coast, the first to a military installation since the Chinese exercises began, reporters watched as ground crews demonstrated how they were rapidly climbing weapons on the F-16s, including Boeing Co.’s anti-Harpoon. – ship missiles.
Defense ministry spokesman Sun Li-fang told reporters at the base that while they condemned China’s actions, this was a good opportunity for Taiwan’s forces to hone their skills.
“We will take this opportunity to test all the training we do regularly, and with that improve our current methods and increase our combat effectiveness,” he said.
“The forces of the Republic of China are confident, capable and determined to defend the security of the Republic of China,” Sun added, using Taiwan’s formal name.
While Taiwanese fighters, including F-16s from Hualien, have been repeatedly engaged since earlier this month, the ministry has highlighted Taiwan’s “calm” response and there have been no clashes.
“I won’t say there are many changes, but our fight frequency is higher and the tension is higher,” said F-16 pilot Django Lin.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has said they do not intend to provoke or escalate tensions.
The Hualien base, which has hangers cut into the side of a mountain, has two duty pilots at a time sitting in their flight suits and able to be in the air in six minutes.
The fighters on display were the Lockheed Martin Corp F-16V, Taiwan’s most current fighter jet.
Taiwan has been converting 141 F-16A/B aircraft to the F-16V type and has also ordered 66 new F-16Vs, which have new avionics, weapons and radar systems to better match the Chinese air force , including its J-20 stealth fighters.
The F-16Vs can also carry Raytheon Technologies Corp.’s advanced AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
Taiwan’s government says that because the People’s Republic of China has never ruled the island, it has no right to claim it or decide its future, which can only be decided by the people of Taiwan.
(Reporting by Aleksander Solum and Ann Wang; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.
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