“Communist aircrafts have already flown close to Taiwan and intruded into our Air Defense Identification Zone several times this year...” have become a regular fixture in local newspapers recently. Due to the “normalization” of Communist aircraft activity and their interception, President Ing-wen Tsai posted on Facebook in her capacity as the Commander-in-Chief that the Armed Forces are fully prepared to defend the rights of the 23 million citizens to freedom, democracy, and self-determination. She also ordered the military to intercept and drive any trespassers back beyond the median line immediately. Press releases were also issued by the Air Force emphasizing that fighter patrols are always on standby and that there is no need to worry as all activity in the surrounding air space and seas are under joint surveillance. Effective response by the Armed Forces meant that the Communist harassment of Taiwanese air space has not caused any serious concerns in Taiwan. At the same time, few people noticed that this year marked the centennial of the Air Force’s founding.
The history of the Republic of China Air Force can be traced back to the establishment of the “Aviation Bureau” by Founding Father Dr. Sun Yat-sen to protect the military government in Guangzhou on November 29, 1920. The new bureau reported directly to the office of the Grand Marshal. It was later reorganized into the “Aviation Office” and a new “Aviation Headquarters” was set up before being elevated to “Aviation Administration” then to the “Aviation Commission.” On September 1, 1932, the Aviation Academy of Ministry of Military Affairs was formally expanded to become the “Central Aviation Academy.” It was renamed as the “Air Force Academy” two years later. The weakness of national power at the time meant the Air Force was a ragtag collection of aircrafts supplied or leased from the Soviet Union, Italy, and other countries. Both the quantity and performance were sorely lacking. Despite the threadbare beginnings, on August 14, 1937, a group of Hawk III fighters, whose performance was far inferior to the Japanese, intercepted Type 96 bombers over Hangzhou. Led by Colonel Chih-hang Kao, the fighters from the 4th Pursuit Group shot down a number of the Japanese bombers. The “814 Aerial Victory” would be commemorated as the August 14 “Air Force Day.”
The relocation of the Central Government in 1949 and the start of the Cold War saw the Air Force become Taiwan’s first line of defense. Day and night patrols were conducted on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and a number of engagements were fought with the Chinese Communist air force. Taiwan’s position on the frontlines of democracy meant large quantities of US military assistance were provided to the Air Force in the form of F-84, F-86, F-100, and F-104 fighters. The Air Force also became a testing platform for US military technology. In addition to making the first-ever kill with an air-to-air missile in the world, the Black Bat and Black Cat Squadron flew high- and low-altitude reconnaissance missions over China to test the latest electronic reconnaissance/photography technologies and missile warning systems. Taiwan did not become an important strategic partner in Asia during the Cold War through the kindness of other nations. It was the product of superb flying skills, selfless sacrifice, and pragmatic quid pro quo of national interests. The Republic of China Air Force successfully held the line for the democratic island chain stretching all the way from Okinawa to northern Philippines.
Even as the Air Force marks the centennial of its founding, the Air Force today has undergone a complete transformation. The support and expectations of all compatriots meant that the Air Force successfully upgraded three mainstay models of fighters before entering the 21st Century. The quality of pilots and maintenance crews has also been greatly enhanced through continued exchanges with the US and French air forces through various channels. The government’s demonstration of its commitment to developing an indigenous defense industry in recent years won the support of the people and inspired the patriotism of domestic industries as well. All the effort that went into the indigenous aircraft program finally gave birth to the much-anticipated “Brave Eagle” advanced jet trainer. These are achievements that all citizens can be proud of and a tangible demonstration of total national defense. In response to the increased pressure on our air defenses from constant harassment by Communist aircrafts in recent years, appropriate increases were made to the flight pay for aircrews to improve the retention of personnel (trained at great cost). The Air Force Combatant Command’s command authority and readiness were also upgraded. These substantive initiatives enhanced the fighting power of the Air Force and represented the commitment to national defense.
The classic novel A Tale of Two Cities by the English author Charles Dickens opened with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The Air Force has gone through different periods over the last century as time does not stand still; however, the end of one age is but the dawn of another. People may question it all they like but its pace will neither speed up nor slacken.
The international situation and cross-strait relations are very different now. We face a threat whose tangible resources are several times those of ours. Important as the quality of personnel, weaponry, equipment, and training may be, it is wisdom and determination that we now need more than ever. At this point in time, we look forward to seeing every citizen give their most sincere “Like” to an Air Force tempered over the course of a century as it continues to soar high in defense of Taiwan.
A Century of Transformation by the Air Force
Source: Youth Daily News, Ministry of National Defense (July 4, 2020)