Taiwan’s air force has again touted its combat preparedness, saying its fast-response squadron mainly consisting of French-built Mirage 2000 fighter jets would need no more than six minutes to get airborne to fend off invading Chinese warplanes.

In an emergency-takeoff exercise last week, four Mirage 2000s under the air force’s 499th Tactical Fighter Wing ascended from Hsinchu Air Base in northern Taiwan and flew near the central line of the Taiwan Strait before heading back.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported that the squadron’s airmen would need only six minutes to take off in response to any intrusion by the Chinese military.

The demonstration during a media tour was meant to assure Taiwanese that their air force is prepared to defend the island.

Breaches of Taiwan’s airspace by bombers, fighters and spy planes from the People’s Liberation Army have become a new normal since 2017, with more than 50 circumnavigation missions confirmed by mainland media.

The Mirage 2000 is a multirole combat fighter manufactured by Dassault Aviation. Taiwan’s fleet was acquired at the end of the 1990s.

The purchase was made in response to China’s procurement of the Russian-made Su-27, and the US$4.9 billion order included 48 single-seat Mirage 2000-5EIs and 12 Mirage 2000-5DI trainers as well as a number of air-to-air missiles, of which the MICA missiles would provide the Mirage a degree of beyond-visual-range capability for its role as a frontline interceptor.

Yet since it was commissioned, Taiwan’s Mirage fleet has suffered from low operational readiness, high maintenance costs and higher-than-expected wear and tear, possibly due to the island’s subtropical climate. Cracks in the turbine blades of the aircraft’s engines have also been detected.

There have been calls to retire the entire Mirage fleet because of its high maintenance costs. The aircraft’s maintenance supplies cost more than those of the island’s indigenous F-CK-1 Ching-kuo and the US F-16 Fighting Falcon.