TAIPEI, Taiwan --- The three main fighter jets in the Air Force fleet successfully completed emergency take-offs and landings on a section of Taiwan's No. 1 National Freeway on Tuesday morning to test the military's response capabilities in the event of a Chinese attack.
A F-16 V fighter jet, followed by a Mirage 2000-5, an Indigenous Defensive Fighter (IDF), and an E-2K airborne early warning aircraft, landed on the Huatan section of the freeway in Changhua County in western Taiwan at around 6 a.m.
After landing, the planes later took off again in the same order from the same roadway.
The exercise, part of a series of annual Han Kuang live-fire exercises staged over five days, starting on Monday, was presided over by President Tsai Ing-wen and was witnessed by hundreds of military fans, who were eager to take photos of the rare occasion.
The last time such a drill was held was in September 2014 on the Minxiong section of the No. 1 National Freeway in Chiayi County. Similar drills were also held in 2004, 2007 and 2011.
In her address, Tsai thanked the R.O.C. Armed Forces in completing the task, which she described as "extremely complicated and challenging."
"Despite the challenging mission, all of us have worked together to achieve the goal. This demonstrates the defense capability and trustworthiness of Taiwan's military," she said.
It was also the first time the F-16V, or F-16 Viper, took part in the Han Kuang exercises, Taiwan's most important war games, which are held each year to test the combat capabilities of all branches of the armed forces, in the face of a continued military threat from China.
Taiwan's military is currently upgrading its 144 F-16 A/B jets to F-16Vs as part of a US$3.68 billion project launched by the government in 2016.
Taiwan’s upgraded F-16V fighters will make their public début in the Han Kuang wargames that begin today, and will comprise operations from highways. Note the weapons fit comprises two Harpoon anti-ship missiles. (ROCAF photo)
The retrofit program includes installing advanced equipment on the fighters, including the AN/APG active electronically scanned array radar system currently used in the United States' F-22 and F-35 fighters.
The comprehensive upgrade of the Air Force's entire F-16 fleet is expected to be completed by the end of 2023, according to the Air Force.
Tuesday's drill was not much different from past freeway landings and take-offs conducted by the military during the Han Kuang exercises, but it was still challenging, a military source told CNA.
Among the challenges were that the drill could not be rehearsed in advance and it required clear communications between the military, police and the National Freeway Bureau, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue publicly.
To prepare for the highway landing drill, ground crews had to make sure no foreign objects were present on the section of the freeway that was used as an emergency runway.
They had to sweep clean all the foreign objects or risk having them sucked into an aircraft's engines, possibly resulting in damage or even a crash, the source said.
Also, after the planes landed, ground crews only had limited time to refuel the planes and load missiles on them, making the job even more difficult, the source said.