Taiwan recovers wreckage of ROCAF F-5E fighter jet

The Taiwanese Air Force (ROCAF) recovered the wreckage of the single-seater F-5E that crashed on October 29, 2020. The research vessel Polaris operated by the private company Dragon Prince Hydro-Survey Enterprise retrieved the wreckage on April 30, 2021. 

The jet trainer, relatively intact, was transported to the Port of Kaohsiung. Its recovery will help the investigators shine the light on the reasons behind the crash, which have yet to be identified.

What happened?

On October 29, 2020, an F-5E fighter jet of the 7th Flight Training Wing crashed off the coast of Taitung, southeastern Taiwan.

The accident took place shortly after the fighter took off from Chihhang Air Force Base of the Taiwan Air Force (ROCAF) in Taitung County for a training mission. After reporting an engine problem, the pilot managed to eject and was recovered but later died of his injuries.

Consequently, the ROCAF fleet of F-5E trainers was grounded while an investigation was carried out. 

On March 22, 2021, two Taiwanese F-5 Tiger II fighter jets crashed into the sea after what appeared to be a mid-air collision. One pilot was recovered but died of his injuries, while the second one was lost at sea. Upon examination of the deceased pilot, the ROCAF concluded that he was likely killed by the ejection. 

During a press conference held following the crash, Huang Zhiwei, the Chief of Staff of the Taiwanese Air Force (ROCAF), stated that $21 million would be spent to upgrade the F-5 fleet with Martin-Baker Mk16 ejection seats. 

An aging fighter fleet

Taiwan was once one of the largest operators of the Tiger, with over 336 F-5E/Fs in its inventory in the late 1980s. Most of them had been locally produced under license by the state company Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC). 

Taiwan is currently operating around 25 of the aging fighters, mainly as trainers, as a complement to the more modern fleet of F-16 jets. 66 of the latter are currently on order, while the ones already in the ROCAF arsenal are undergoing upgrades. In November 2020, the ROCAF also lost an F-16 fighter jet in a crash. In addition, the fighter fleet also includes 50 Mirage 2000s and around 100 F-CK-1s, an indigenous aircraft based on the F-16.

AIDC is developing a new advanced jet trainer, the T-5 “Brave Eagle” based on the F-CK-1 called to replace the F-5. In 2017, it was also contracted to design a new fighter with a new engine, though not much has been communicated on the aircraft since then.

Taiwan military under increased pressure

Due to an increase in Chinese military activity around the island, the Taiwan military has been under increased pressure in recent years. Throughout 2020, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense reported that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) flew about 380 sorties into the country’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) ‒ the highest number since 1996.

On April 12, 2021, the Taiwanese government reported that 25 Chinese military aircraft entered the country’s air defense identification zone, the largest number in a year. It marked the tenth consecutive day of Chinese aerial incursion.


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