Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 3 News List

S Korea builds jet trainer with help from Taiwanese

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

South Korea has developed a supersonic jet trainer with assistance from Taiwanese technicians, defense sources said yesterday.

The roughly 10 technicians brought back with them a great deal of experience in the development of the T-50 Golden Eagle jet trainer.

Before working with the South Koreans, these technicians had been involved in the development of the Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) for the air force.

They are thought to be former employees of the state-run Aerospace Industry Development Corporation (AIDC), which developed the IDF, but the AIDC has been emphasizing that they were no longer connected with the company.

They made front-page news in one Chinese-language evening newspaper several months ago even though they had already finished their work in South Korea.

A senior official with the AIDC, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was a pity that these technicians, though not great in number, had to find a job in South Korea, where the aircraft industry used to be years behind Taiwan's.

"Strictly speaking, these technicians were not the best among those who had been involved in the development of the IDF. They were some sort of `minor league players' if we explain it in baseball terms," the official said.

"We have no intention of condemning them for working for South Korea. It was their choice. They had to find a place where their talents and specialties could be respected and used," he said.

"The aircraft industry used to be highly regarded by the government. It is still important but is not needed now."

The return of former AIDC technicians sparked a discussion among air force officials and aviation companies about the future of the aviation industry, which is apparently moving toward a dead end.

The AIDC, for instance, has been hoping to be appointed by the government to develop the next-generation of fighter planes for the air force, but it might be a dream that will never come true.

For the air force, the best choice is still to buy modern fighter planes from the US, preferably the Joint Strike Fighter, which has vertical take-off capabilities.

Though it is determined to buy from the US, the air force still spends tens of millions of NT dollars each year studying what sort of fighters it will need in the future.

Given the situation, the AIDC has tried to ask for an easier contract from the air force -- to develop the next-generation jet trainer for the air force.

The request has been turned down since the air force's priority is on fighter planes, rather than trainers.

An air force official, who strongly supports the local aviation industry, said the air force would not consider the suggestion until plane crashes involving trainers have occurred.

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