Sun, Sep 22, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Air force salvages Mirage wreck amid worry of aging jets

By Lo Tien-bin  /  Staff reporter

Most of the wreckage and recording equipment from a Mirage 2000 jet fighter that crashed into the waters off Hsinchu County on May 20 has been recovered, a senior air force official said yesterday.

The official said that the air force contracted a local company to undertake the operation after the crash, which the jet’s two crewmembers survived by ejecting themselves from the aircraft.

Some of the debris and electronic data have been sent to the jet’s manufacturer, Dessault Aviation, to identify the cause of the crash and the air force expects the French company will complete its analysis by the end of the year, he said.

After the crash, the military deployed naval vessels to locate the wreckage, which was found at a depth of 100m, the official said.

The air force then held an auction for the salvage operation contract, which was won by a Taiwanese company, he added.

The official said the air force had earmarked NT$27.2 million (US$918,000) for the recovery operation.

The Mirage 2000 wreck was one of two crashes that occurred in the same week, with the other being an F-16 that also crashed into the sea.

The air force subsequently grounded all of its F-16s and Mirage 2000s for a short period while it sought to determine the cause of the accidents.

F-16 A/Bs are tasked with the heaviest missions in the air force, which exact a large toll on aircraft that were commissioned 20 years ago, the official said, adding that the jets are starting to develop several problems.

Following the signing of an agreement with the US to upgrade Taiwan’s 144 F-16A/B fighter jets, the air force needs to evaluate if the aircraft are effective for protecting the country’s air space.

According to the air force, five A-class F-16 crashes have taken place between November 2011 and November last year, suggesting growing safety concerns about the aging aircraft.

In addition to the loss of aircraft and crew, these accidents have cost the air force more than US$2 million.

All of the countries that use F-16s have reported problems in the jets’ mission computer systems and engines, the official said, adding that upgrading the aircraft may not resolve all of the problems.

Instead of upgrading the aging planes, the air force should seek to purchase the US’ F-35 joint strike fighter jets, he said.

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