Military plans program for low-end training jet

GROUNDWORK::The new jets would help the defense industry avoid a possible slump after another project that is scheduled to be completed in nine years

By Aaron Tu and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Thu, Dec 07, 2017 - Page 3

The military plans to initiate a program for indigenous low-end trainer jets after completing an ongoing indigenous advanced trainer jet program, to lay the groundwork for next-generation fighter jets, Ministry of National Defense officials said.

Similar to the more advanced program, the indigenous low-end trainer jet program will be a collaboration between the ministry, National Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology and Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC), officials said.

The trainer jet programs are to sustain the nation’s military aviation industry for the next 10 to 20 years, and enable the planned research and development of next generation fighters, they said.

The development of indigenous tactical aircraft is to remain a key component of defense policy even if the nation obtains the Lockheed-Martin F-35B multirole jet from the US, they said.

Although Japan is equipping the F-35A as its mainstay next-generation tactical fighter, it continues to pursue the research and development of its own stealth fighter-bomber, the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin, they said.

Japan’s decision to procure the F-35A while simultaneously working on the X-2 will satisfy the tactical needs of its air force without compromising its domestic industrial base, they said.

The nation’s military is to also adopt the dual-track strategy of lobbying for F-35B procurement and to domestically produce an advanced fighter, the officials said.

The nation’s advanced fighter must be stealthy and capable of vertical takeoff and landing, but it will not be limited to those specifications, they said.

“Who knows what the future tactical fighter would look like or how they will perform?” one official said.

After the ministry shores up the nation’s military aviation industry and obtained F-35B or other advanced fighters, it might pursue the development of an uncrewed aerial vehicles for air superiority role, they said.

The production schedule for the indigenous advanced trainer jets runs from this year to 2026, while that of the proposed low-end trainer jet is as yet undetermined, the officials said.

As the low-end trainer is less technologically demanding, there is more flexibility for adjusting its production schedule, the officials said.

The ministry is concerned that the military aviation industry might suffer ill-effects after the final orders of the advanced trainer jet are completed in 2026, as it did when the indigenous defense fighters were completed, they said.

Having the nation’s military aviation industry mass produce the low-end trainer jets might help mitigate the negative effects that could follow the conclusion of the advanced trainer jet program, they said.

The ministry has plans to go beyond the indigenous advanced trainer jet program, Deputy Minister of National Defense Chang Guan-chung (張冠群) on Tuesday told a defense policy and aviation industry forum.

The military ordered a total of 66 advanced trainer jets for NT$68.6 billion (US$2.29 billion), with about 50 percent of the manufacturing process being entirely domestic, he said.

The point of the program is to leverage the technical capabilities of the nation’s aviation industry and test its ability to meet production dates and reach program milestones, he said.

The ministry believes that the domestic military jet program is a superb platform for growing the nation’s defense autonomy and could be expanded into spinoff programs for developing sub-systems, he said.

The ministry’s low-end trainer jet program is divided into 10-year components and will involve developing the capability for aircraft repair and supply into the next two to three decades.

The nation’s determination to manufacture locally made military jets remain unaffected by a minesweeper scandal, Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) said at the event.

“I am confident that after 636 workdays, the first AIDC advanced trainer jet will take to the air by the year 2020,” Feng said.

The nation’s active service trainer jet, the AIDC AT-3, has hard points for carrying bombs and missiles, and is capable of serving as light attack aircraft, ministry officials said.

The advanced trainer jet’s increased fuel capacity would extend its range and operational flexibility, they said.

Previously, the military had developed an experimental dedicated strike aircraft the AIDC XAT-3 from the AT-3, a program that was active in the 1980s.

When asked whether the military would consider building a dedicated strike aircraft variant based on the planned advanced trainer jet, an ministry source replied in the negative.

The XAT-3 was a response to the absence of dedicated air-to-surface aircraft, whereas the air force currently possesses multiple types of surface-attack capable jets, the official said.

The military’s priority for the advanced trainer jet program is to replace the AT-3 and the new jets are anticipated to have block 1 and block 2 improvements, the official said.