Military aircraft accidents blight start to the year

RoKAF F-35
RoKAF's Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter

Combat aircraft operations in the Asia Pacific is off to a rocky start in 2022 with a spate of high profile aircraft accidents for South Korea and Taiwan in the first two weeks of the year.

On 4 January, A Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter made an emergency belly landing at Seosan Air Base during a routine training flight, prompting the service to suspend operations of the aircraft type.

A Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesperson said that the service has launched a formal investigation into the emergency landing and that the fleet will remain grounded until the investigation is complete.

RoKAF vice chief of staff Shin Ok-chul testified the next day at a National Assembly hearing that the pilot, who was uninjured, experienced anomalies with the aircraft’s avionics systems while flying at low altitude and excuted an emergency landing at the nearest airbase instead of abandoning the aircraft.

However, the RoKAF subsequently lost a Northrop Grumman F-5E Tiger II fighter and its pilot after the aircraft crashed into a mountain in Hwaseong on 11 January, after taking off from Suwon Airbase. The MND said an engine fire warning light had activated a few minutes after take-off but the pilot was unable eject from the aircraft despite two attempts to do so.

Meanwhile, the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) lost a recently upgraded Lockheed Martin F-16V fighter aircraft after it crashed into the sea on 11 January, also prompting the service to suspend F-16 training operations to conduct investigations.

The Taiwanese MND said in a statement that radar and communications contact was lost with the aircraft after it took off from fleet, went missing from radar screens after taking off from the Chiayi Air Base in southern Taiwan for a training mission.

The government’s Rescue Command Center said witnesses had seen the aircraft crash into the sea and that wreckage of its fuselage had been found. However, the fate of the pilot is presently unknown despite an overnight involving multiple helicopters and coastguard vessels

The RoCAF only recently commissioned its first F-16V squadron, which is assigned to its 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, in November 2021. The crashed aircraft is one of the many F-16A/B aircraft locally upgraded to the latest V-configuration under the Peace Phoenix programme.

The service has suffered a spate of crashes that were mainly attributed to pilot error over recent months, including the loss of two F-5E Tiger II fighter aircraft were following a mid-air collision off Taiwan’s south-eastern coast in March 2021. The service also lost another F-5 and an F-16 in separate crashes in October and November 2020, respectively.

by Jr Ng