Defense minister apologizes for recent Air Force crashes
ROC Central News Agency
Taipei, May 23 (CNA) Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu apologized Thursday for crashes of two Air Force jet fighters in five days earlier this month, but added that Air Force pilots need public support to regain their confidence as soon as possible.
Kao was responding to questions from lawmakers of different political stripes about the availability of the country's air arsenal after the crashes of an F-16 and a Mirage 2000-5.
'I'm more than willing to offer an apology to the public for the flight mishaps and will assume full political responsibility for them,' Kao told lawmakers.
At the moment, he went on, the most important thing is to ascertain the cause of the crashes.
'Special task forces have been formed to investigate each crash,' Kao said, adding that early signs show mechanical failure to be the most likely cause of the accidents.
On May 15, a single-seater F-16 of the 455th Tactical Fighter Wing crashed into waters southwest of Chiayi in southern Taiwan. Its 26-year-old pilot managed to eject to safety.
The other incident involved a twin-seater Mirage 2000-5 belonging to the 499th Tactical Fighter Wing based in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, which crashed off the western coast shortly after takeoff May 20. Again, its two pilots were able to bail out safely.
Despite the crashes, Kao assured the lawmakers that all Air Force aircraft on active duty are in good and serviceable condition.
'The availability rate of our air arsenal in active service meets standard requirements,' Kao said.
U.S.-built F-16s, French-made Mirage 2000-5s and locally developed Ching-kuo IDF jet fighters form the backbone of Taiwan's air defenses.
Asked about progress in the military's plan to procure new warplanes that would constitute a third generation of aircraft for the Air Force, Kao said the procurement of U.S.-built F-35 jet fighters is a long-term target.
'Before this goal is realized, we have other projects to meet our defense needs,' Kao said, adding that the Ministry of National Defense aims to purchase new jet fighters that boast better performance than the F-16 A/B now in service.
Previous media reports have said Taiwan looks forward to buying an F-35 variant with short take-off and vertical-landing functions.
(By Chen Shun-hsieh and Sofia Wu)
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