Taiwan’s Republic of China Air Force launched two multirole F-16 fighters fitted with anti-ship missiles from Hualien Air Force Base this week following reports that forces from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would be holding drills simulating the capture of the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands, which Beijing calls the Dongsha Islands.
The Dongsha Islands are located in the northern part of the South China Sea, a body of water which contains many contested islands and reefs claimed by several nations, including China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Cambodia, Brunei and the Philippines. The South China Sea is believed to contain large amounts of oil and natural gas deposits beneath its seafloor.
Aviation reporter Roy Choo shared photos online Thursday of the aircraft from the base’s 5th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) deploying.
“The 5th TFW F-16s at Hualien are usually tasked with anti-shipping missions with the Harpoons while the F-16s from the 4th TFW at Chiayi Air Force Base are usually seen employing AGM-65 Maverick missiles for anti-surface roles,” Choo said, The Drive reported.
The AGM-65 Maverick is an air-to-ground missile that is effective against many types of targets.
The aircraft are believed to have been launched over fears that the PLA would soon be conducting military exercises simulating a takeover of the Dongsha Islands, according to Taiwan’s Liberty Times.
Reports first surfaced in May that the PLA would hold the military drills in August. According to a report by Taiwan News at the time, the PLA’s beach landing exercise would involve “large numbers of marines, landing ships, hovercrafts and helicopters.
However, it’s worth noting that reports of the planned island drills by China’s forces have recently been disputed after Chinese military expert Li Daguang revealed that a paper of his was misconstrued when it was cited in several news articles reporting on the supposed exercises. Li told the Global Times on Monday that the mention of drills in his paper is “absolutely not a confirmation” of the exercises.