Taiwan’s air force has again scrambled to warn off approaching Chinese jets, in the latest rise in military tension between Beijing and the island it claims as its own.
In the second such incident in two months, Taiwan’s Air Force (officially the Republic of China Air Force) has scrambled F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets to meet combat aircraft from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The jets were reportedly scrambled to meet KJ-500 airborne early warning aircraft escorted by J-11 heavyweight air superiority fighters, which had flown near waters southwest of Taiwan for nighttime exercises. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry stated regarding the incident: “After our air reconnaissance and patrol aircraft responded appropriately, and broadcast (an order) to drive them away, the communist aircraft flew away from our Air Defence Identification Zone.”
Taiwan has repeatedly complained that China has stepped up its drills near to the island when it should be focusing its efforts on combating the spread of the coronavirus.
China has said such exercises are to protect its sovereignty and send a warning that it will not tolerate any moves towards formal independence for Taiwan.
A big thank you to #Taiwan's air force for the F-16 escort. We definitely felt safe & sound. JW pic.twitter.com/axAv6q8yAV
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) ?? (@MOFA_Taiwan) March 21, 2019
Taiwan today faces an increasingly unfavourable balance of power in the air, and from near parity with the PLA in the 1980s it now faces an overwhelming quantitative and qualitative disadvantage.
Chinese J-11B fighters boast superior capabilities to the F-16 across the spectrum, including longer-ranged air to air missiles, a stronger radar, a higher weapons payload and range and better speed, altitude and manoeuvrability.
The J-11B’s engines put out over twice as much thrust as the F-16’s F110, and the fighters leave Taiwanese jets at an overwhelming disadvantage.
The PLA has in the past deployed more capable fighters near Taiwan such as the Su-35 and J-20, which pose even more of a threat than the J-11B and leave Taiwanese jets at an even greater disadvantage.
Taiwan for its part has only a very conservative plan to modernise its aerial warfare capabilities, which includes integrating new radars and avionics onto its F-16s, purchasing new F-16s built to the upgraded standard and developing the lighter indigenous Brave Eagle fighter.