TAIPEI (CNA) — The current training ground for Taiwan F-16 pilots at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona is scheduled to be relocated to nearby Tucson International Airport by 2021, the air force said on May 9, without explaining why the date is two years later than that previously announced by U.S. authorities.
The relocation of the 21st Fighter Squadron, where Taiwan pilots are trained to fly F-16 jets, will begin in 2020, to provide space for new F-35 fighters, R.O.C. Air Force Chief of Staff Liu Jen-yuan (劉任遠) told legislators in Taipei.
The transfer is scheduled to be completed in 2021 and is expected to cost Taiwan US$8 million, Liu added, in response to a lawmaker’s question.
The U.S. Air Force said late last year that the relocation from Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, a Phoenix suburb, to the Arizona Air National Guard facility at Tucson International Airport, was expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2019.
Taiwan’s F-16 pilots have been training at Luke Air Force Base for more than two decades since the country bought its first batch of the fighter jets from the U.S. in the 1990s.
However, until recently, the U.S. rarely made public such training programs, though it did so after announcing last month a new batch of arms sales to Taiwan, the third since President Donald Trump assumed office in January 2017.
The US$500 million package is meant for “the continuation of a pilot training program and maintenance/logistics support for F-16 aircraft currently at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
A source familiar with national security matters previously told CNA that the U.S. administration’s public announcement that Taiwan military pilots are being trained in the U.S. is a departure from past practice.
Given that the U.S. usually only trains the standing forces of major allies like NATO members, its decision to make public the training of Taiwan fighter pilots signals its close military ties with Taiwan, the source said.
By Elaine Hou and Joseph Yeh