Taiwanese fighter jets landed on a temporary runway on a highway strip on Wednesday, under the supervision of President Tsai Ing-wen, as yearly drills neared their conclusion, honing skills that would be required if China attacked and targeted Taiwan’s vulnerable air facilities.
China has increased military pressure on Taiwan, which it regards as “sacred” Chinese territory, in the hope of forcing the democratically elected government to recognise Beijing’s sovereignty, notably through frequent exercises near Taiwan.
Tsai, re-elected by a landslide last year on a pledge to stand up to China, has made modernising Taiwan’s mainly U.S.-equipped military a priority, turning it into a “porcupine”, both highly mobile and hard to attack.
Three fighters – an F-16, French-made Mirage and a Ching-kuo Indigenous Defence Fighter – plus an E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft landed in rural southern Pingtung county on a highway strip specially designed to be straight and flat for rapid conversion from a road into a runway.
“Such splendid combat skills and rapid and real actions come from solid everyday training and also demonstrate the confidence of the Republic of China Air Force in defending its airspace,” Tsai wrote on Facebook, referencing Taiwan’s formal name.
Taiwan has five emergency highway runways across the island which can be pressed into service in the event a Chinese attack takes out air force bases, meaning the air force will still be able to operate.
The majority of Taiwan’s air bases are on its flat west coast, facing China, and would likely come under almost immediate heavy missile and aerial bombardment in case of war.
Two other air bases are located on Taiwan’s mountainous east coast, with hangars hewn deep into the rock, giving far more robust security.
The Han Kuang drills, which last a week, are taking place all around Taiwan, along with other exercises to practise repelling a Chinese invasion, protecting important infrastructure, and night operations, though the highway drills are the most dramatic.
Taiwan’s air force scrambles almost daily to intercept Chinese aircraft that fly into the island’s air defence zone, particularly near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the upper South China Sea.