French fighter pilots helped their Taiwanese counterparts refine their air combat skills, particularly on their Mirage-2000 jets that the island nation operates.
Flying some of the Mirages with the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) aviators, the French pilots faced F-16s in simulated exercises that led to the former emerging victorious, according to reports.
Taiwan has been trying to match China’s defense preparations in anticipation of a military conflict over political control of the island.
Taiwan is up-gunning its military with a slew of military purchases from the US, consistently holding a series of air-naval-ground drills over the last year, and upgrading its defense technology research and production, introducing a series of drones and missiles to counter China’s vast arsenal.
The Taiwan Straits have seen the most severe tensions in decades since the August 2022 visit of former US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) retaliated by holding unprecedented live-fire drills at six different spots around the island, firing missiles over the island for the first time that landed on its eastern seaboard, and continuing to hold naval drills with its aircraft carrier battle groups off Taiwan’s eastern and southeastern seas.
Tactically, the latest annual exercises with French pilots — who did not come with their aircraft to not escalate matters with China — are meant to hone RoCAF combat aviators’ skills and knowledge on the latest concepts and tactics.
Strategically, Taiwan’s military drills are meant to convey that the island will not capitulate before Beijing’s pressure tactics and will fight if attacked, regardless of whether the US decides to intervene.
Mirage-2000s Vs F-16s
According to Taiwan News, the annual exercise occurred between the RoCAF and the French air force on October 14 at the Chiashan Air Base in Hualien. Mixed teams were formed, consisting of both Taiwanese and French pilots.
The 17th Squadron of the RoCAF’s 5th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) assumed the role of the simulated enemy, engaging in aerial tactical combat and rehearsing other scenarios. 5th TFW operates US-origin F-16s and older generation F-5s.
“The exercise aimed to enhance the aerial combat capabilities of the Taiwanese Mirage 2000 and the F-16V fighter pilots. The exchange provides an opportunity for the Taiwanese Air Force to review its deployment of Mirage fighter jets,” the report said, quoting an unnamed official.
The Mirage-2000s are RoCAF’s frontline fighter aircraft, and the F-16 primarily performs “high-altitude interception.” Any People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) jets, like the J-10C, J-16, or the JH-7 ground attack aircraft flying high-altitude reconnaissance-strike missions would possibly face the Mirage-2000s that would be scrambled to confront them.
The military training arrangement between Taiwan and France is intriguing. France dispatches active-duty or retired pilots each year to engage in tactical and strategic exchanges in eastern Taiwan.
According to CNA, the 5th TFW lost four F-16Vs against four Mirage-2000s, quoting Lieutenant Colonel Zhuang Weibo. “Under the operation and good understanding of the Phantom pilots, only one Phantom aircraft was damaged, and all F-16Vs were killed,” Weibo said. The Mirages are renowned for their performance, particularly their swift rate of climb.
Taiwan operates 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets purchased from France in 1992, which began reaching its units in 1997.
Taiwan Trusts Its Mirages More
The parameters of the exercise are unknown, but it can be assumed that the tactical scenario being practiced could have been the jets being scrambled upon detecting PLAAF fighters approaching the airspace. From the description, it can be inferred that the drill was a close-range dogfight, not a beyond-visual-range (BVR) engagement.
The claim about the Mirages beating the F-16s in aerial combat also comes after the RoCAF announced in August about allocating US$4.77 million to determine whether or not nine of its twin-seater Mirage aircraft could continue to serve Taiwan for another 20 years. A EurAsian Times report on the development can be read here.
Chinese Fighters Not The Only Threat Before Taiwan
The drill assumes that RoCAF facilities do not come under sudden and heavy long-range missile strikes besides facing People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) fighters from its aircraft carriers entering the island’s sovereign skies from the east.
Analysts have a consensus that a Chinese military action on Taiwan would be surprising and unexpected. It would possibly be a fluid extension of the threatening air defense identification zone (ADIZ) violations with fighter bombers and drones like the TB-001 drones and coordinated naval drills on its eastern seas like it usually has been doing for the last year.
In other words, such aggressive Chinese exercises — that disregard Taiwan’s sovereignty with the message that the island was always a Chinese province — are now considered an everyday occurrence. An actual operation to retake it militarily will be indistinguishable.