Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sad day for Taiwan’s air force

Two crashes involving ageing aircraft confirm the need for Taiwan to modernize its forces. But to blame the accidents on the Ma administration is invidious

Two Taiwanese Air Force aircraft, one F-5F and a RF-5 crashed into Dongao Mountain (東澳山) in Suhua Township yesterday evening, thirteen minutes after takeoff. All three on board, Lieutenant Colonel Chang Chien-kuo (常建國), 41, Major Wang Hung-hsiang (王鴻祥), 36, and Captain Hsiao Wen-min (蕭文民), 29, perished in the separate crashes.

The following day, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) launched a tirade against the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), accusing them of “sabotaging” attempts by Taiwan to purchase 66 F-16C/Ds from the US, which would replace the F-5s — acquired in 1974 — after they are retired. Implicit in their attacks was that Chang, Wang and Hsiao (and the other eight pilots who lost their lives to crashes since 2008) would be alive today had it not been for the failed efforts to modernize the air force.

While there is absolutely no doubt that Taiwan must acquire more modern and advanced aircraft, it is unlikely that Tuesday’s incident was the result of ageing equipment. Initial reports by the military rather point to pilot error, with the two aircraft, flying at an altitude of about 2,000 feet, deviating from their course and slamming into Dongao. It is hard to imagine that two aircraft on the same nighttime training sortie would crash simultaneously due to mechanical failure, old though the equipment may be.

That being said, older equipment does put the lives of the men and women who serve this country at risk, even more so should there be armed conflict at some point. Although it would be invidious to attribute Tuesday’s deaths to the purported failings of the Ma administration, those lost lives nevertheless highlight the need for both political parties, the Ministry of National Defense and Taiwan’s diplomats abroad to work together to ensure that members of the armed forces get the equipment they need to do their job. Those men and women put their lives at risk every day to ensure that Taiwan retains its free and democratic way of life under the shadow of Chinese invasion. We owe it to them that they be able to do so as safely and effectively as possible.

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