Taipei, Taiwan (GDC) — Taiwan’s defense minister said Friday that the Air Force will replace the 33 F-5 fighter jets at Taitung’s Zhi-Hang Air Base within three years, one day after a pilot was killed when a plane from the fleet crashed off Taiwan’s east coast.
Defense Minister Yen De-fa made the remarks during a visit with the family of pilot Chu Kuan-meng who managed to eject from the aircraft before it crashed shortly after takeoff but later succumbed to his injuries.
According to Yen, the Air Force is in the process of phasing out its F-5 fleet, which will be replaced by indigenous advanced jet trainers (AJT) being built by the government-funded Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC).
The military expects to take delivery of 66 of the new trainers by 2026.
Taiwan’s F-5 jets were delivered in 1980 and retrofitted by their American manufacturer between 1994 and 2000, at which time they were given an estimated lifetime of 14,779 flight hours, he said.
The current average for planes in the fleet is 7,825 flight hours, meaning that with proper maintenance they remain safe to fly, he said, adding that F-5s are still used in 26 countries, including the U.S.
The plane involved in the crash had an accumulated flight time of 6,260 hours and underwent routine maintenance work from September to December 2019, the Ministry of National Defense said Thursday.
Regarding the military’s investigation into the incident, Yen said a Navy minehunter ship and a private contractor are currently working to salvage the wreckage.
Only after the plane is recovered will investigators be able to determine the cause of the crash, he said.
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