Taiwan has decided to phase out all 46 of its ageing F-5 fighter jets in four years’ time, days after a crash that killed one of its pilots.
The warplanes will be replaced in 2024 by the domestically produced Yung Yin (Brave Eagle) advanced trainer jets, which Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) will begin production of next year, according to the Taiwanese defence ministry.
The island’s air force will begin decommissioning its single-seated F-5Es and twin-seated F-5Fs from early 2024 and phase them all out by the end of that year, the ministry said in a report to Taiwan’s legislature.
The 46 F-5s are deployed from Taiwan’s east coast, 39 from Chihang airbase in the county of Taitung and seven from an airbase in the county of Hualien.
The air force has ordered a total of 66 supersonic Yung Yins, which could be converted to fighter jets in wartime.
Mass production will begin next November, with AIDC expected to deliver 45 of the advanced trainer jets to the air force by the end of 2024 – of which the air force will commission 33 at Chihang and 12 at Kangshan, in the southern country of Kaohsiung. AIDC is expected to deliver a further 21 by 2026, to be deployed at other airbases, including in Hualien, the ministry said.
Replacements for the F-5s became an urgent matter following last week’s fatal crash. The single-seater F-5E had just taken off from Chihang on Thursday morning when the pilot reported a mechanical problem.
According to the Taiwanese air force’s chief of staff Huang Chih-wei, the pilot, identified as 29-year-old Chu Kuan-meng, was taking part in routine air combat and defence training. He managed to eject from the jet in the air but rescuers found no vital signs before taking him to hospital by helicopter.
According to Taiwanese media reports, Chu was apparently hit on the head by the falling plane before impact with the sea.
The air force is investigating the cause of the crash and has grounded all F-5E/Fs since Thursday. Its F-5E/Fs were last grounded in 2011, after a fatal crash in Hualien.
Taiwan started assembling F-5E/F fighter jets domestically in 1973, with all necessary technologies and key engines provided by US-based Northrop Corporation. At one time, the Taiwanese air force had 242 F-5Es and 66 F-5Fs.
The F-5E/F series was downgraded to be the air force’s second line of fighters after the introduction of 150 F-16s, 60 Mirage 2000-5s and 130 F-CK-1s in the 1990s, and the jets have been mostly withdrawn from service as squadrons converted to the newer aircraft.