The Taiwanese government on 7 February committed to support local industry to design and fly a prototype advanced jet trainer by 2020 and deliver 66 production aircraft to replace the air force’s aging fleet of AIDC AT-3 and Northrop F-5F trainers.

In a ceremony in Taichung attended by President Tsai Ing-Wen, the government launched the $1 billion development programme to kick-start an indigenous aerospace industry that 30 years co-developed with General Dynamics the F-CK-1 twin-engined fighter.

Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC) has previously revealed concepts of for the XT-5 trainer, which resembles a scaled-down variant of the F-CK-1.

Taiwan had flirted with acquiring an advanced jet trainer replacement from Western suppliers, including the Leonardo M-346, which is powered by Honeywell F124 engines assembled by AIDC in Taiwan.

After flying a prototype jet trainer in 2020, Taiwan plans to have a production version ready to enter service five years later.

In the announcement, Taiwanese officials lamented that the national aerospace industry has not made progress since the introduction of the F-CK-1 nearly 30 years ago, as “talented people have been hired away by foreign countries or retired”.

In addition to over-coming the brain-drain, Taiwan has chosen an ambitious project to revive the country’s indigenous aerospace industry. At the height of Taiwan’s aerospace achievement, General Dynamics was still needed to co-develop the F-CK-1, but the new advanced jet trainer will be developed without the assistance of a foreign partner.

The project will also face heavy competition. In addition to production rivals, such as the Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 and the M-346, Boeing/Saab have launched a clean-sheet jet trainer to offer the US Air Force to win a $16 billion contract to build 350 aircraft. Lockheed is competing for the USAF's T-X order with the T-50, while Leonardo is considering its options after the withdrawal of former US partner Raytheon from the M-346 bid.