Taiwan Loses Two F-5s

This isn’t the best week to be an F-5 driver…anywhere. Earlier in the week we showed you this video

of the wreckage of an Iranian F-5 that crashed during military exercises. Now, Taiwan has grounded its entire fleet of F-5s after losing two of them during what sounds like a low-level nighttime training flight gone awry.

From the BBC:

The jets disappeared off radar shortly after taking off from an air base in Hualien, eastern Taiwan.

The remains of three pilots have been recovered from the mountain crash site.

The military said it was investigating the accident but one official said it underlined Taiwan’s need to purchase a more modern air fleet.

The aircraft - one RF-5 surveillance plane and a two-seater F-5F trainer - took off at 19:39 (11:39 GMT) and disappeared from radar 13 minutes later, the defence ministry said.

“We were fishing at the seaside when suddenly airplanes flew over our heads, and a moment later we heard a loud bang and the whole mountain was set on fire,” one witness told the Taipei Times. “The explosion was very loud.”

Wreckage from the planes was later found in the mountains and on a highway.

Taiwanese defense officials are already trying to spin the accident (that, at first blush, sounds like it was caused by pilot error not a mechanical failure) to highlight the need for new F-16C/Ds — planes that the White House has decided not to sell the island nation.

  • Blight

    The airframes are old.The ROC needs to retire them, or speed up local fighter production.

    Let the Iran bashing begin!

  • SJE

    Perhaps ROC needs to ask Russia.

    • Ben

      Taiwan actually did try to place an order for Russian MiG-29s when it was undergoing its major air force modernization overhaul in the 1980s and early 1990s. The order was refused.

      • jhm

        yup, the mig29m


    The Obama Administration should sell F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan especially since China has nothing to worry about since they’re developing a fifth generation fighter with their J-20.

    • Ben

      I’m a bit dubious that the F-16C/D Block 52s represent a needed leap in capability for the ROCAF. A better platform might have been the Super Hornet or an F-15T variant of the Strike Eagle, but then there would be the problem of no commonality with existing ROCAF jets, plus twin-engine training and familiarization to boot.

      As for the J-20, Taiwan does have a Pave Paws radar, considered one of the most powerful in the world. Taiwan also has one of the world’s densest SAM air defense networks, along with 6 Hawkeye AWACS, so it isn’t out of the question for Taiwan to be capable of detecting a J-20.

      • mmhm…

        Unless I’m mistaken Taiwan operates both F4s & F5s and both of those aircraft are twin engines.

        • Ben

          Taiwan doesn’t operate F-4s, and the F-5s are retiring within a few years at any rate. With the humidity and moisture issues with the Mirage 2000s, plus their extremely high maintenance and spare part cost, I think the Taiwanese air force is trying to move towards just a two-type fighter fleet of IDF/IDF-IIs and F-16s. The ROCAF is hardly plagued by excessive diversity like the Indian Air Force, but probably still wants to keep types to a minimum.

          What the future holds beyond 2020, though, is anyone’s guess. Should the U.S. not sell something like Super Hornet or Strike Eagle, it may be all up to Taiwan’s own AIDC to design a fifth-gen fighter the best it can.

        • Ben

          Actually, sorry my bad, the IDF that Taiwan currently operates already is a twin-engine aircraft. Don’t know how that escaped my notice. You’re right.

  • drball

    No the Tawianese need to buy Trukey’s new F-16 Block 32……china will not say a word or else….

    • Ben

      Or else what?

  • what

    One curious question (or maybe two). For several years why does Taiwan keep on insisting on the US to sell them F-16s when Uncle Sam has already rejected their requests so many times? Why can’t they just go ask France/Sweden/Europe to sell them Rafale/Grippen/Typhoon fighters instead?

    • jhm

      The gripen would be nice, especially for a relatively small island nation, but i doubt sweden would instigate anger from communitst (really?) china.

    • Enrico

      Yeah, the US are the only option left since they’re bound by their own legislation, like the “Taiwan Relations Act” and “Taiwan Security Enhancement Act”. Everyone else basically abandoned Taiwan back in the early 90s like France or even before that.

    • Jay

      We agreed to sell them F16c/d when Bush was president, but Obama changed the deal to older models only.

      If Taiwan raises a big stink it could become a minor election issue and Obama might change his mind

  • jhm

    I hope S. Korean F-5s dnt crash or something. that would really be a bummer

    • Ben

      From what I understand, South Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagles are meant to replace its F-5s.

      • jhm

        i know, but they still are flying f5s right now

  • Enrico

    Why don’t they simply manufacture more (upgraded) IDF? Was it such a bad fighter? Or do you that there’s some other reason? They’ve been talking about these F-16 Block 52+ from 10 years, in this lapse of time they could have seriously introduced more upgraded IDF-II (or even more advanced variants), it doesn’t look like it’s a bad fighter and I suppose that the American government can afford (semi-secret) collaboration to this project.
    What do you think about it?

    • Matrix3692

      i remember i heard a joke or some sort on the internet, some of the early-IDF pilots call their ride: I Don’t Fly……….

      • Enrico

        Well, afaik initially F-16 wasn’t exactly an easy ride as well, hopefully they worked (most) problems of the IDF during these years. Anyway I think that upgrading and procuring more IDF is a matter of necessity, if the US government will turn down their request for F-16s Block-52+, so far it seems that it’s really going to happen (we’ll know for sure on 1st October).

  • Ben

    The Taiwanese air force very well may do just that (manufacture additional, upgraded IDF models - “IDF-II Goshawks.”) The new IDF Goshawks probably still will not compare to F-16C/D Block 52, though. As far as I understand, they will not have AESA, engines providing a comparatively favorable thrust, and also probably wouldn’t be compatible with the AIM-120 and AIM-9 that the F-16s use.

    The Taiwanese air force will very likely ask for a new wing or two of brand-new IDF-IIs, so you’re definitely right in that, but they still would be inferior to F-16C/D Block 52 by most metrics, I believe.

    The original IDF was and still is handicapped by a number of things, most glaringly, a weak and feeble engine. It is also more of a “Low” fighter on the “Hi-Lo” end. The Mirage 2000 is Taiwan’s high-end fighter, the IDF does the low-level stuff and the F-16A/B is kind of Taiwan’s hybrid fighter for the multirole in between. In the end, the IDF and F-16 are both fighter-bomber platforms while the Mirage is pure interceptor.

    • Mastro

      The Mirage’s are having major mechanical issues- a combination of Taiwan’s humidity and parts availability from France- either intentional or just an engineering problem.

      The IDF is low end- OK for tangling with the Mig21 varaiations but a bit overmatched bu the S-27’s- certainly by the new stuff.

      • Ben

        China doesn’t operate MiG-21s, but the IDF may well tangle with JH-7s or so forth. At any rate, fighters aren’t really sent out, as far as I know, against a specific type of aircraft. If there is a large air battle going on, then everyone basically goes in there and attacks whatever target they are best in position to target. IDFs may launch AAMs against J-10s and J-11s; Mirage 2000s may shoot down lumbering PLA troop transport aircraft.

        • TLAM Strike

          The PLAAF operates about 300 J-7 Fishbed fighters, their copy of the MiG-21.

  • JSCS`

    So if they had F-16’s they wouldn’t have flown into the mountains? Don’t think this is an aging F5 issue…..

    • JRL

      Exactly. Unless the mountains suddenly rose up in front of the unfortunate F-5 drivers, it seems to be a clear case of pilot error.

      “Controlled flight into terrain” IOW…

    • Ben

      Good point, but I think Taiwan is trying to persuade the Obama administration with whatever it can. This is similar to the crash of Taiwanese military UH-1 Hueys a couple of years ago, which may or may not have been pilot error, but which was used as an impetus for the purchase of new Blackhawk replacement helicopters which were desired anyway.

  • Lance

    The F-5 is a good fighter if it can be modified to shoot AIM-120 AAMs then its as good as a F-16A in air to air combat.. Keep the F-5s replace the older F-16s with Saab Griphens or buy F-16s from Israel or some other nation who has C models.

    • Ben

      These F-5s - Taiwan’s - are 35 years old. They’re about as worn out as a fighter’s airframe can be. It’s not just about avionics (AIM-120, etc.) It’s about metal fatigue and worn-out parts.

    • Enrico

      Israel has more interest in keeping good relations with China than with Taiwan. Also, I’m not completely sure but I think that American authorisation would be necessary in order to re-export American built aircrafts.
      It’s obviously possible to upgrade F-5s’ avionics (Singapore and Brazil equipped their F-5s with Italian Grifo-F radars to enable AMRAAM and Python AAMs) but like Ben said, it’s quite possible that most F-5s are simply too worn out to remain in service.

    • blight

      The alternative is asking Northrop to put together a new F-20 design on the sly, and then sell the designs to Taiwan. The Taiwanese would then be wished good luck and a prayer to deliver their own aircraft, avionics, engines…

  • brok3n

    One more reason the F-20 Tigershark should have been pushed to service

  • Benjamin

    I think it would be in everyone’s interest (besides China) that we supply the Taiwanese with a new engine design for the IDF. It is the critical flaw in the current IDF.

  • brian

    The best way for Taiwan to defend itself is to forget about the planes and focus in on nukes on trucks and subs as well as chemical and biological weapons. China has to understand if they attack, they will lose everything they have gained over the past 20 years and then some, while not getting anything in return. Only then will PROC realize the only way to take ROC is by becoming an acceptable free market democracy.

    • m167A1

      nice idea, but China has the ROC on the top of its “unfinished business’ list. And while they are willing to be patient about the whole thing, they mean to finish it on their terms by hook or by crook. They might actually be willing to take a few hits in order to accomplish this goal. That said some nukes would be at the top of my Christmas list if I were them.

      While I’m willing to fight this one out, was as a country (the US) are apparently not. So frankly its looks like tears and blood for Taiwan.

      • brian

        I highly doubt the party will approve of losing Bejing and Shanghai to maybe get Taiwan. It would simply destroy the central government, regardless if the leadership survived. It’s too much for too little.

  • craig

    @brian Agrees!

  • M167A1

    Ah the danger of being a US ally. Eventually it gets awkward or we lose interest and let the wolves have you.

    Probably water under the bride at this point. I just hope the whole thing can have something like a decent resolution. Knowing the PRC though I suspect they will settle for nothing less than total subjugation. Can’t have any of those pesky Kuomintang running loose.

  • WRG01

    Taiwan should approach Israel for existing aircraft upgrades and the purchase of Kfir and F16 aircraft. This worked well for South Africa and technological upgrades continue to benefit the Indian AF, Turkish AF and others (unfortunately, mainland China has alledgedly benefitted from Israel’s technology). Just my 2 cents. The US may fear antagonizing China, but others may be ready to help…