TAIWAN IS seeking access to foreign military bases and training ranges for its air force, to overcome the problem of increasingly restricted airspace.

According to local reports, Taiwan has approached several countries, including Australia, the Philippines and the USA. The move will almost certainly meet with opposition from China, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province.

Taiwan already maintains close training links with Singapore, and it is seeking to exploit these to gain access to Australian ranges, says a local source. Singapore has moved part of its flight-training school to Australia, and is seeking to expand its presence there with additional aircraft.

Taiwan has also asked to lease airspace in the Philippines and, in an attempt to win favour, recently donated two surplus Northrop F-5A/Bs to that country's badly depleted air force.

The USA, however, is seen as the most likely solution. Taiwanese pilots have in the past trained there on a commercial basis, while the first of 150 US-built Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs are due for delivery to Taiwan from August.

Introduction of the F-16s into service, together with the first of 60 Dassault Mirage 2000-5s from late July, will add further pressure to the air force's problem of restricted airspace for training.

The air force operates a fleet of some 400 combat aircraft from ten main operational bases, but is being forced by the rapid growth in civil air transport and increasingly vocal public protests to curtail its training exercises.

Source: Flight International