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Taiwan jet trainer delayed 10 years

25th November 2016 - 4:19 by Wendell Minnick in Taipei

Taiwan jet trainer delayed 10 years

The indigenous defence manufacturing policy of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will delay the air force's acquisition of 66 advanced jet trainers (AJT) to replace the ageing AT-3 by at least a decade, Taipei defence industry sources said.

The Legislative Yuan agreed on 17 November to the delay on the condition that the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) meet a deadline of September 2019 to come up with a 'purely indigenous design' that the local aircraft manufacturer, Aerospace Industry Development Corporation (AIDC), was capable of building.  If not, the air force had permission to ferret out a foreign company for a co-manufacturing deal. 

Despite the 'indigenous' requirement, the NCSIST and AIDC have already reached out to US-based Sierra Nevada Corporation for a possible co-design deal, according to local defence industry sources.  Sierra Nevada did not respond for comment.

The AT-3 Tzu Chung attack/trainers were built during the 1980s by AIDC with foreign assistance from Northrop. A retired Taiwan defence officer warned that Taiwan was unable then and now to build a completely indigenous aircraft, pointing out that AIDC’s F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defence Fighter was built via collaboration with General Dynamics during the late 1980s.

In 2014 AIDC signed a deal with Finmeccanica to co-build the M-346 AJT, but that deal was nixed when Tsai assumed office in May 2016, running on a platform that promoted local manufacture of defence items. Local defence industry sources now indicate that the M-346 is still in the running, but now has competition from a new trainer being developed by Boeing/Saab, the T-X, for the US Air Force. 

Either way, the delay could set back the trainer replacement by a decade and cost the NCSIST $300 million in out-of-pocket expenses to pay for research and development, said a government source.  The end result, he said, was a more costly AJT programme.

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