Taipei, Aug. 5 (CNA) Of Taiwan's military aircraft, the C-130 transport plane can be refitted as a tanker aircraft, which can beef up the country's air defenses in the event of war, military officials said recently.
Although the Air Force has no tanker aircraft, the C-130 is spacious enough to be turned into a tanker aircraft if it is equipped with refueling equipment such as oil tanks and hoses, the officials told CNA.
"Tanker aircraft can double the in-flight operating time for combat aircraft," they said, adding that the country's warplanes can remain airborne for only two hours at most without refueling.
Among Taiwan's main combat aircraft, the U.S.-made F-16 A/B jet fighters and Mirage 2000-5s from France can both be refueled in the air, the officials added.
Meanwhile, "our military pilots -- who have been trained in the United States or France on how to operate the F-16 and the Mirage 2000-5s -- know how to refuel in the air," according to the officials.
The issue of tanker aircraft, however, is a sensitive one. With such planes, the F-16s and the Mirage 2000-5s would be seen as attack aircraft rather than defense ones.
Due to this sensitivity, which could spark concerns among neighboring countries such as China and Japan, it is unlikely Taiwan will be able to acquire such equipment from the United States, the country's main arms supplier.
The Taiwan Relations Act, enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1979 when Washington and Taipei severed ties, obliges the U.S. only to provide Taiwan with defensive arms.
(By Elaine Hou)