The state-run Aerospace Indus-trial Development Corporation (AIDC) yesterday announced it will develop a next-generation jet trainer for the air force to replace its aging F-5 series planes.
AIDC Chairman Huang Jung-teh (黃榮德), a retired air force lieutenant general, said the AIDC is already negotiating with several foreign aircraft manufacturers over the possibility of cooperation on the project.
Huang made the announcement yesterday at a public hearing in the Legislative Yuan on the updating of the military's armaments.
He was one of several government officials who attended the hearing.
Huang did not explain what type of jet trainer the AIDC will develop for the air force. Huang, a former fighter pilot, retired just last month from the post of vice commander-in-chief of the air force.
An official with the AIDC, who declined to be identified, said the jet trainer Huang talked about is to be a modified version of the IDF plane developed by the AIDC.
"The IDF is a good fighter plane. We plan to build a simplified version of the plane for use as a trainer by the air force," the official said.
"The air force will retire all of its aging F-5 series planes within a few years. If we can successfully develop the trainer version of the IDF, we will win the contract to provide the next-generation jet trainer to the air force," he said.
The number of next-generation jet trainers that the air force will need is estimated at over 200, since the air force now uses around the same number of F-5E and F-5F planes for the role of advanced trainers.
The F-5E/F had been one of the air force's main fighter planes for two decades before second-generation fighters, like the domestically-built IDF, the United States-made F-16A/B and the French Mirage 2000-5 started coming into service in the early 1990s.
Chen Pan-ta (程邦達), a retired air force official and now the executive of the Aircraft Certification Institute -- affiliated with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, or CAA -- was not so optimistic about the AIDC's chances of winning the contract to produce the next-generation jet trainer for the air force.
Chen said it is very likely that the air force will buy the next-generation jet trainer from South Korea.
"South Korea has developed a jet trainer, which is basically a simplified version of the IDF, with the assistance of the United States," Chen said. Although the IDF is widely considered to be a product of Taiwan's AIDC, it is basically a transfer of technology from the United States.
"Twelve years ago, the South Korean military had asked for advice from us about how to develop a jet fighter. We told them the key was `human resources,'" he said.
"Now South Korea has not only outpaced us in the development of fighter planes. They have also taken over the best engineers from AIDC," he said.