The training ground for Taiwanese F-16 pilots at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona is to be relocated to Tucson International Airport in the same state by 2021, the Republic of China (ROC) Air Force said yesterday, without explaining why the date is two years later than previously announced by the US.
The relocation of the 21st Fighter Squadron, where Taiwanese pilots are trained to fly F-16 jets, is to begin next year, to provide space for new F-35s, Air Force Chief of Staff Liu Jen-yuan (劉任遠) told lawmakers in Taipei.
The transfer is to be completed in 2021 and is expected to cost Taiwan US$8 million, Liu said.
Photo: Yu Tai-lang, Taipei Times
The US Air Force late last year said that the relocation was expected to be completed by Dec. 31.
Taiwan’s pilots have been training at Luke Air Force Base for more than two decades since the nation purchased its first batch of the jets from the US in the 1990s.
However, until recently, the US rarely discussed such training programs, although it did so after last month announcing new arms sales to Taiwan, the third since US President Donald Trump assumed office in January 2017.
The US$500 million package is meant for “the continuation of a pilot training program and maintenance/logistics support for F-16 aircraft currently at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona,” a statement released by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.
A source familiar with national security matters previously told reporters that the US administration’s public announcement that Taiwanese military pilots were being trained in the US was a departure from past practice.
Given that the US usually only trains the standing forces of major allies, such as NATO members, its decision to make public training of Taiwanese fighter pilots signals its close military ties with the nation, the source said.
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