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Taiwan grounds Mirage fighter jets after crash

Taiwan grounds Mirage fighter jets after crash
A Taiwanese Mirage 2000 fighter jet crashed into the sea Monday during a routine combat training mission, marking the air force's second accident of the year. File Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

March 14 (UPI) -- A Taiwanese Mirage 2000 fighter jet crashed into the sea Monday during a routine combat training mission, the island's air force said, prompting the military to ground the fleet.

The solo pilot took off from Taitung Air Base at 10:18 Monday morning and reported a mechanical malfunction roughly an hour later, the Taiwan Air Force said in a statement. The pilot safely ejected some 10 nautical miles south of the base and was rescued.

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A task force has been formed to clarify the cause of the crash, the statement said.

Air force officials later told reporters that the country's fleet of Mirage 2000 fighter jets would be grounded for inspections, Taiwan's China News Agency reported.

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Monday's accident comes as the airspace over the Taiwan Strait has grown increasingly tense over the past several months, with China's military conducting almost daily incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone and Taipei scrambling fighter jets in response.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has vowed to retake it by force if necessary.

The crash was the second of the year for the Taiwanese air force. In January, an F-16V fighter jet went down in the sea during a routine drill, killing the lone pilot and prompting a grounding of 140 planes.

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Last year, another F-16 went down after leaving Hualien air base and two F-5E fighters crashed into the sea after they collided in mid-air.

While there has been no direct connection between the incidents and China's air incursions, the Taiwanese military has pointed to Beijing's attempts to weaken the self-governing island's defense capabilities through "gray zone" warfare.

"[China's] intimidating behavior does not only consume our combat power and shake our faith and morale but also attempts to alter or challenge the status quo in the Taiwan Strait to ultimately achieve its goal of 'seizing Taiwan without a fight,'" a November report from Taiwan's defense ministry said.

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Russia's invasion of Ukraine has further rattled nerves about China's plans for Taiwan.

On Saturday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen observed a new training program for military reservists and pointed to lessons from Ukraine in the face of Beijing's threats.

"The recent situation in Ukraine has once again proved that the protection of the country, in addition to international solidarity and assistance, depends on the unity of the whole people," she said.

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