Taiwan has grounded all of its F-16 fighter jets for safety inspections because it continues to look for a plane after it went missing during a work out on Tuesday night.
The grounding announced on Wednesday involves about 150 planes, which have played an important role in Taiwan’s efforts to discourage Chinese aircraft that are encroaching into its airspace more regularly in recent months.
The air force said a single-seat F-16 flown by a 44-year-old pilot disappeared from radar at an altitude of some 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) two minutes after beginning from Hualien air station in eastern Taiwan on Tuesday night.
The disappearance comes but three weeks after a pilot was killed when he ejected from his F-5E fighter jet during training, prompting an identical grounding.
“The rescue mission is our top priority now. The air force has grounded all F-16s for checks and I’ve instructed an investigation into the explanation for the incident,” President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters.
Tsai in October pledged to modernise Taiwan’s military in response to an increasingly assertive China, which claims the island as its own and has not ruled out the utilization of force to realize its objective.
Without the F-16s, Taiwan’s air force fleet consists of the locally-built Indigenous Defence Fighter, French-built Mirages from the late 1990s and F-5E fighters that go back to the 1970s.