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U.S. F-18 fighters' landing in Taiwan unplanned: analysts
【Politics】2015-04-03  21:29:55
Taipei, April 3 (CNA) Despite speculation that the emergency landing of two U.S. F-18 fighters at a Taiwanese air force base on April 1 was a "political message" being sent by the Pentagon to Beijing, some Taiwanese analysts saw the speculation as far-fetched.

It was an "unintended incident," said Alexander Huang (黃介正), an assistant professor in Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies in New Taipei.

"As far as I know, the U.S. military or the U.S. government would not take such action to send a message to China, Taiwan or any other country in the region," said Huang, a specialist on U.S. defense and foreign policy and East Asian international relations.

Huang also did not see the landing of the F-18s as being related to China's use of its new H-6K nuclear cruise missile bomber in exercises in the Western Pacific Ocean recently, as argued by military analysts such as Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based International Assessment and Strategy Center.

Although the landings were unexpected, Huang said, the incident did demonstrate that "the U.S. military sees its Taiwanese counterparts as like-minded partners" who are reliable.

The incident -- from the emergency landing to the departure of the F-18s after repairs were completed -- also showed that the U.S. and Taiwan have a smooth communication channel that made dealing with the matter relatively easy, he said.

It did not take long before the mechanical glitch in one of the F-18s was fixed and the fighters left for their base in Japan, he added.

"If we see it as an unplanned military drill, it went quite well," Huang told CNA.

Echoing Huang's remarks, military analyst Erich Shih (施孝瑋) described the incident as "a beautiful surprise."

"It was absolutely an unplanned incident," said Shih, chief editor of the Aviation and Military Info website, arguing that the posture of the aircraft when it landed at the Tainan base showed that there was something wrong with its engine.

Although some argued that the F-18 aircraft could have landed at a less-controversial location, Shih said it is a top priority for pilots to find a suitable location to land when they experience an in-flight situation they deem unsafe.

The F-18 was flying over waters near southern Taiwan when it encountered the problem, which meant Japanese air bases were too far away, Shih said.

He also doubted that the bases in the Philippines would have been able to meet the U.S. needs because of their lack of advanced infrastructure, leaving Taiwan as the best choice.

The two F-18 fighters landed at the Tainan Air Force Base on Wednesday afternoon. American personnel arrived in Taiwan late Thursday to fix the problem in one of the F-18s and completed their work Friday morning.

The two fighters left for their base in Okinawa on Friday afternoon after repairs were completed.

About two hours later, the C-130 transport plane that carried the American personnel and aircraft parts from Japan to the Tainan base also departed Taiwan, according to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the U.S. de facto embassy in Taiwan.

Taking off from Japan, the fighters from U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323) were en route to Singapore to participate in Commando Sling, an air-to-air exercise with Singapore, when one of them had "a persistent engine oil pressure warning light," a spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps said in Washington.

The Air Force's 443rd wing assisted the fighters with their landing and provided necessary logistical assistance, Taiwanese military officials said.

The landing of the F-18s was a rarity because the United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and its military aircraft do not use air bases in Taiwan.

China views democratic Taiwan with its 23 million people as a renegade province, to be taken by force if necessary, and objects to any military interaction between Taiwan and the U.S.

(By Elaine Hou)
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