Taipei--Taiwan's Air Force signed an agreement Tuesday to commission a domestic military-run institute to build 66 advanced trainer planes, signaling a step forward in the government's efforts to develop the local defense industry.
Under the terms of the agreement signed by Air Force Commander Shen Yi-ming (???) and National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) President Chang Guan-chung (???), the first prototype of the trainer aircraft is expected to be completed in 2019 and test flights a year later.
By 2026, the fleet of 66 advanced trainers will be delivered to seamlessly replace the military's AT-3 trainer aircraft and F-5 fighter jets, which are over 30 years old, the institute said.
The Ministry of National Defense (MND), which has allocated a budget of NT$68.6 billion (US$2.21 billion) to build the new aircraft, has decided to adopt the Aerospace Industrial Development Corp.'s (AIDC) XT-5 "Blue Magpie" design for the trainers.
At the signing ceremony Tuesday, President Tsai Ing-wen (???) said the deal signaled that Taiwan's self-reliance in the area of national defense had moved past the planning stage.
Tsai said she hoped that in the process of building the planes, Taiwan will be able to nurture a talent pool in the aerospace industry, which suffered a decline at one point because of brain drain and the retirement of experts.
She also said one of the goals of the project was to help develop the defense industry into a driver of the country's economy.
"The national defense budget is not just an expenditure," Tsai said. "It is for the production, purchase, repair, maintenance, upgrade and replacement of defense equipment, which in turn create major domestic market demand and produce benefits in other industries."
For example, a cluster of aerospace, machinery and electric engineering businesses in Taichung will create spin-off business among industries in Taoyuan, Tainan and Kaohsiung, Tsai said.
Taiwan's aerospace industry has a solid technological basis and is by no means starting from scratch, she said.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel