The air force is no longer scrambling each time Chinese aircraft encroach on its air defense identification zone, but tracks the intruders with ground-based missiles instead to help save resources, a senior official said yesterday.
The air force has repeatedly scrambled to intercept Chinese jets in the past few months, and the US in July last year approved a possible US$620 million upgrade package for Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Taiwan.
Yesterday, 10 Chinese military aircraft, including fighter jets, entered the southwest corner of the zone, the Ministry of National Defense said, adding that it used missiles to “monitor” the incursion and its planes warned the Chinese aircraft over the radio.
Twenty Chinese military aircraft entered the zone on Friday last week, in the largest incursion yet reported by the ministry.
Although they have not flown over Taiwan itself, the flights have ramped up pressure, both financial and physical, on the air force to ensure its aircraft are ready to go at any moment in what security officials describe as a “war of attrition.”
Speaking at the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, Deputy Minister of National Defense Chang Che-ping (張哲平) said that initially fighter jets were sent out each time to intercept the Chinese aircraft, whose missions are concentrated in the southeastern part of the zone.
As that took up valuable time and resources, that strategy was changed, with Taiwan sending slower aircraft up if China did too, but that has also changed, Chang added.
“So we now largely use land-based missile forces to track them. We are considering the war of attrition issue,” he said.
The ministry has spoken of the repeated missions, along with its aircraft being “middle-aged,” leading to a huge increase in maintenance costs not originally budgeted for.
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