Taiwan Air Force Flew 1,000 Extra Hours Deterring China Threat

Taiwan's air force pilots spent an additional 1,000 hours in the sky last year responding to Chinese warplane incursions into the island's defensive airspace, a government report revealed Wednesday.

Between January and November 2020, Taiwan's military aircraft flew a combined 45,500 hours, including 11,800 mission hours and 33,700 training hours, the Ministry of National Defense told a bipartisan legislative committee.

The air force flew 1,000 more hours on training missions when compared to the yearly average of 32,700 between 2017 and 2019, lawmakers with the Foreign and National Defense Committee were told.

The report attributed the increase to incursions by People's Liberation Army aircraft, which began flying regular sorties into the southwest corner of Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ)—at the mouth of the South China Sea—last September.

Patrol aircraft on training exercises were routed to intercept the Chinese military planes, which have included surveillance craft but also bombers and fighter jets, the ministry said.

According to Wednesday's report, 97 percent of last year's PLA incursions occurred in Taiwan's southwest ADIZ, while the extra air force manoeuvres resulted in additional maintenance and fuel costs.

One PLA Y-8 ASW entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ in the afternoon of Mar. 10, 2021. Please check our official website for more information: https://t.co/0vbnOq6wNH pic.twitter.com/giVuk3dvv1

— 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) March 10, 2021

Former Defense Minister Yan De-fa revealed last year that deterring PLA incursions was costing Taiwan's air force an average of 1 million New Taiwan dollars ($35,200) for every hour spent in the sky. As a result, the defense ministry began adjusting its response to Chinese warplane activity last October, said the new report.

The air force still intercepts every PLA sortie into the country's defensive airspace, but it does not send fighter jets every time, the ministry said. It now dispatches C-130H and P-3C reconnaissance aircraft to head off slow-moving surveillance planes such as China's Y-8s.

At a legislative hearing last week, Taiwan's Premier Su Tseng-chang told lawmakers that air force pilots were able to scramble and respond to PLA intrusions within six minutes, issuing radio warnings and driving the foreign aircraft away.

Chinese Warplane Enters Taiwan's ADIZ
File photo: A Chinese Y-8 surveillance aircraft is photographed inside Taiwan's southwest air defense identification zone. Taiwan Ministry of National Defense

Chinese military aircraft have flown seven sorties into Taiwan's ADIZ in March for a combined 143 times since the start of 2021, according to Newsweek's analysis of publicly available information.

On Sunday, China's defense ministry reiterated that Beijing would not renounce the use of force in its efforts to unify Taiwan, which it claims is a rogue Chinese province.

Chiu Kuo-cheng, who was appointed Taiwan's new minister of defense amid a cabinet reshuffle last month, suggested the rhetoric from across the Taiwan Strait was nothing out of the ordinary.

"The Chinese Communist Party has never stopped saying it won't renounce the use of force against Taiwan," Chiu, who was Taiwan's intelligence chief, told reporters on Tuesday.

He said Taiwan's armed forces were stepping up combat readiness.

"We can't predict what the enemy will do, but we must anticipate all contingencies and prepare our responses as soon as possible," he said.

Taiwan's defense ministry began logging on its website—in English and Chinese—each PLA warplane incursion into Taiwan's ADIZ when the activity began escalating last September.

Chang Che-ping, Taipei's deputy defense minister, said the decision has helped the public understand what China is doing and how the Taiwanese military is responding.

Taiwan Air Force Flies 1,000 Extra Hours
File photo: A group of Taiwan Air Force technicians run behind a US-made F-16V fighter jet during an exercise at a military base in Chiayi, Taiwan. Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images