State-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC, 漢翔航空) is facing promising prospects for the coming years, with an advanced trainer program in the works and the likelihood of a major role in a possible F-16A/B upgrade project.
One of the main projects AIDC is working on is a new advanced and completely indigenous trainer, Mike Lee (李適彰), secretary-general of the National Defense Industrial Association of Sino (中華國防工業發展協會), told the Taipei Times on the sidelines of the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition yesterday.
The firm has been working on a XAT-5 prototype, a twin-engine trainer that, according to some industry analysts, could be based on the Indigenous Defense Fighter’s (IDF) airframe.
Although he would not provide a time frame and said the air force had yet to green-light a specific model, Lee, who also serves as a special assistant to AIDC chairman Jason Liu (劉介岑), said the next few years would be the perfect time to introduce a new trainer to replace the twin-engine AT-3 — also manufactured by AIDC — that entered service in 1984.
Turning to the mid-life upgrade of Taiwan’s 130 F-CK-1A/B “Ching Kuo” IDFs, Lee said work on the first 71 aircraft was continuing and provided the air force had the budget, a second-phase upgrade, which would complete the remainder of the fleet, could be launched at some point. The first phase of the program has delivered six upgraded aircraft so far.
The configurations involved in the second-phase upgrades are still under discussion between AIDC and the air force, Lee said.
AIDC is also likely to play a role on the Lockheed Martin F-16s.
Not only could the firm be assigned some subcontracting work on the 66 new F-16C/Ds Taiwan has been requesting from the US since 2007, but the previous day a senior official at Lockheed told the Taipei Times that most of the work on the US$4.5 billion program to upgrade Taiwan’s 144 F-16A/Bs would be carried out in Taiwan.
Given the great similarities between the IDF and the F-16, and AIDC’s experience handling both, it is very likely that AIDC would get the contract for the F-16A/B upgrade, though ultimately the decision lies with the air force, Lee said.
The US is expected to announce its final decision on the F-16C/D sale and the F-16A/B upgrade package on Oct. 1.
It has been speculated that if Taiwan fails to obtain the F-16C/Ds, AIDC could proceed with the manufacture of the IDF-II “Goshawk” joint strike fighter, which comes with a larger payload and what is known as a conformal fuel tank that provides greater range.
A model Goshawk was displayed at the launch ceremony for the refurbished IDFs in Greater Taichung on June 30.
Depending on budgets and requirements set by the air force, Lee said AIDC could also embark on a fifth-generation fighter aircraft development program, but he did not elaborate nor did he tie a decision to any outcome on the F-16C/Ds.
Although it could have its hands full if all the programs were to occur simultaneously, Lee said AIDC currently had the manpower and technical base to accomplish all of the tasks.