Hercules C-130 transport planes operated by the Air Force can be refitted as tanker aircraft, which can beef up the country’s air defenses in the event of war, military officials said recently.
Although the Air Force has no tanker aircrafts, the C-130 is spacious enough to be turned into a tanker aircraft if it is equipped with refueling equipment such as oil tanks and hoses, the officials said.
“Tanker aircrafts can double the in-flight operating time for combat aircrafts,” they said, adding that the country’s warplanes can remain airborne for only two hours at most without refueling.
Among the nation’s main combat aircrafts, the US-made F-16A/B and Mirage 2000-5s from France can both be refueled in the air, the officials added.
“Our military pilots — who have been trained in the US or France on how to operate the F-16 and the Mirage 2000-5s — know how to refuel in the air,” officials said.
The issue of tanker aircrafts, however, is a sensitive one. With such planes, the F-16s and the Mirage 2000-5s would be seen as attack aircrafts rather than defense ones.
Due to this issue, which could spark concerns among neighboring countries such as China and Japan, it is unlikely Taiwan will be able to acquire such equipment from the US, the country’s main arms supplier.
The Taiwan Relations Act, enacted by the US Congress in 1979 when Washington and Taipei severed ties, obliges the US to provide Taiwan only with defensive arms.
From the middle of the 1980s to the early 1990s, Taiwan’s Air Force purchased a total of 20 Lockheed Martin C-130Hs transport aircraft from the US Air Force, replacing aging C-119s.
The four-engine turboprop aircraft can serve a number of functions, including troop, medical evacuation and cargo transport, as well as search and rescue, scientific research, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling and maritime patrol.
Additional reporting by Staff writer