F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Taiwan not to cancel F-16 training program

September 13, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Jane's Defense announced last Friday that the Republic of China (Taiwan) pulls out of the F-16 training program in a bid to cut costs. Taiwan is however unlikely to scrap its US-based training program for its F-16 pilots for the sake of cutting costs, the Air Force General Headquarters (AFGH) said yesterday.

ROCAF F-16A block 20 #6620 flying over an American landscape. This viper is part of the 21FS at Luke AFB for training purposes [Taiwanairpower.org photo]

The F-16 training program for Taiwanese pilots is conducted at the US Air Force's 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB in Arizona. Every year Taiwan is deployed there for their flight training where they learn F-16 long-range low altitude penetration, air-to-air combat, air combat maneuvering, instrumentation, night attacks and maritime interdiction. The program costs the island US$30 million a year.

Taiwan first signed a pilot training contract with US authorities after the Pentagon agreed to sell it 150 F-16 fighters. The second contract is set to expire at the end of 2005.

"As the existing contract will expire next year, we are negotiating a new one," an AFGH official said, adding that it's impossible that the government will phase out the US-based pilot training program.

"Against this backdrop, we are unlikely to abruptly discontinue the existing training program. The so-called Oct. 1 deadline for canceling the training program is groundless," the official said.

The AFGH official said the latest batch of pilots left for the US in August.

U.S. air force officials also said that the F-16 US training won't be cut: "As they buy and integrate new weapons, how will they effectively employ them without this training? And if there was a war, how will Taiwanese pilots deal with the problem of interoperability with the U.S. military?"

Following a decade of rejections, Washington agreed to sell Taiwan 150 F-16 fighters in November 1992 to replace Taiwan's aging fleet of F-104 and F-5E aircraft. Taiwan first assigned an F-16 squadron to the 21st Fighter Squadron at Luke airbase in 1997.