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Taiwan Deals With Own Pilot Shortage

Brothers in Arms: Dire Strait

If Nancy Pelosi’s effrontery fails to start a shooting war between the U.S. and China, the increasing frequency and belligerence with which Taiwanese and Chinese fighter jets are playing chicken over the Taiwan Strait very well may.

Almost daily, Taiwanese pilots take to their American-built F-16s to intercept Chinese warplanes inbound to the island nation. The Chinese sorties seek to contemporaneously probe Taiwanese air defenses and make a show of Beijing’s military muscle. A mistake by a pilot on either side could result in a mess the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since 1945.

On 03 August—in response to Pelosi’s Taiwanese holiday—China deployed 22-military aircraft across the median-line the U.S. had imposed over the Taiwan Strait—the largest showing of Chinese air-power since Taiwan’s military began disclosing data in 2020. The following day, 11-Chinese missiles slammed into the waters off Taiwan’s coast.

In addition to the immediate and undeniable existential threat posed by its 1.4-billion neighbors to the west, Taiwan is contending with a dire shortage of pilots.

While Taipei lays claim to a relatively large and modern fleet of fighter jets, the democratically governed island could need as many as fifty-years—at current selection, vetting, and training rates—to mint pilots enough to man the cockpits of the warplanes it’s slated to acquire by decade’s end. Military analysts posit Taiwan will need to add at least one-hundred more pilots to operate the 66 additional F-16Vs President Tsai Ing-wen has agreed to purchase from the U.S.

Regrettably, American military commanders estimate that within five-years, China’s weaponry will match its will to move on Taiwan.

Taiwan’s campaign to attract and train new pilots has been hobbled by a bizarre gamut of weirdness beginning at the island’s declining birth and ending with the fact that about eighty-percent of Taiwanese university students are afflicted with myopia resultant of long classroom hours and interminable screen time on electronic devices.

The lack of qualified pilot candidates should not, however, be construed a dearth of patriotism. In point of fact, seventy-percent of 1,076 Taiwanese citizens polled by the nation’s International Strategic Study Society declared their willingness to go to war to defend their island from Chinese aggression—up from forty-percent in December 2021.

The stiffening of Taiwanese public resolve is attributed in part to Ukraine’s steadfastness in the face of Russian invasion and—of all things—the release of Top Gun: Maverick, in which Tom Cruise’s titular character sports a Taiwanese flag patch on his flight-jacket.  

Matt Shen, an instructor pilot assigned to Taiwan’s Seventh Flight Training Wing at the Chihhang Air Base in eastern Taitung city said of Maverick’s influence: “We think recruiting should be easier in the next two years because Top Gun is so popular. Many young men dream of flying.”

FMI: www.taiwan.gov.tw


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