Friday, January 25, 2013

Visit to Hualien Air Force Base; F-16 basics

On day two of its pre-Lunar New Year series of exercises, the Ministry of National Defense took a group of reporters — this writer included — to Hualien AFB, home to the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing of F-16A/Bs, one of two locations in Taiwan where the still impressive aircraft are based (the other is the 455th Tactical Fighter Wing at Chiayi AFB).

A F-16A landing
Although there wasn’t anything new to the exercises, this was a great opportunity to snap pictures and watch the aircraft in action. Ground crew demonstrated their ability to outfit and scramble the aircraft within six minutes of receiving an order for action, while pilots displayed their skills through a series of short landings and demanding maneuvers intended to test the aircraft’s capabilities to the limit.

F-16 in concrete hangar
Being able to get very close to the aircraft gave us the opportunity to take very good pictures of the aircraft and of ground crew as they wed various missiles to the aircraft. While there understandably were restrictions on our movements (one must be brought from point A to point B by bus), we were nevertheless able to take some pictures of infrastructure, including runways to hangars. Here are some of the highlights on the base and the main types of armaments carried by Taiwan’s F-16s. 

Seen above is a typical concrete hangar for the aircraft. As China’s ballistic missile arsenal has improved over the years, defense experts have called for new measures to ensure aircraft survival. One of the actions taken has been to build an underground base in a hollowed section of nearby Chiashan, which could withstand a missile barrage, with a series of exits allowing the F-16s to exit afterwards. The ROC Air Force has also invested in rapid runway repair kits, allowing for quick resumption of runway operations following a missile attack.

The new bomb-resistant hangars
Another, more recent investment came in the form of a new type of hangar, seen here, whose surface forces a warhead to detonate prior to making contact with the hangar, thus greatly increasing survivability.

Ground crew prepare missiles
Here, ground crew prepares to fix AIM-9M “Sidewinder” and AIM-7M “Sparrow” air-to-air missiles onto the wings prior to takeoff. Four crew were needed to carry one AIM-9M. A motorized vehicle was used to carry the larger AIM-7M.

AGM-84L Harpoon missile
Aside from the AIM-9M short-range missile, the AIM-7M medium-range missile, and the AGM-84 “Harpoon” anti-ship missile, The F-16s can also be fitted with Mk-82 500-pound bombs. After they are upgraded as part of a US$5.2 billion package, the F-16s will be fitted with a variety of JDAM bombs.

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