TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan has spent almost $900 million this year on scrambling its air force against Chinese incursions, the island’s defence minister said on Wednesday, describing the pressure they are facing as “great”.
China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up its military activity near the island, responding to what China calls “collusion” between Taiwan and the United States.
China has been angered at increased U.S. support for Taiwan, including visits by senior U.S. government officials and ramped up arms sales.
In the past few weeks, Chinese fighter jets have crossed the mid line of the Taiwan Strait, which normally serves as an unofficial buffer zone, and flown multiple missions into Taiwan’s southwestern air defence identification zone.
Speaking at parliament, Taiwan Defence Minister Yen De-fa said to the air force had scrambled 2,972 times against Chinese aircraft this year at a cost of T$25.5 billion ($886.49 million).
“Recently the pressure has been great. To say otherwise would be deceiving people,” Yen said, without giving a comparison figure for last year.
He clarified that a figure of 4,132 air force missions this year, as provided in a ministry parliamentary briefing paper, included training and regular patrol missions.
Yen said that the armed forces would this month carry out their own drills off Taiwan’s southwest coast, though they would not be live fire.
Taiwan’s armed forces are well-trained and well-equipped but are dwarfed by those of China’s, and Taiwan’s Defence Ministry has previously acknowledged the strain the repeated Chinese drills were placing on them.
Taiwan is in the process of revamping its fighter fleet.
The United States last year approved an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a deal that would bring the island’s total number of the aircraft to more than 200, the largest F-16 fleet in Asia.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)