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Taiwan aims for return to fighter manufacturing

BRENDAN SOBIE / TAIPEI

Nation considers reviving military assembly lines as several aircraft approach retirement

Taiwan is studying the development of indigenous fighters and trainers as several of its aircraft will have to be retired in the next decade despite a new round of upgrades.

Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) is exploring a return to aircraft manufacturing, which it left in 1999 when production of the Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) ceased. AIDC intends to keep busy in the next few years with IDF, AT-3 and Northrop F-5 upgrades but is studying next-generation fighters and new trainers to meet expected requirements.

Industry sources say the government favours awarding AIDC a prime contract to develop a trainer. But they say AIDC is more likely to play a secondary role in anew fighter project, with local assembly a possible alternative.

Taiwan is expected to launch a competition for next-generation fighters in three to five years. AIDC is studying a new fighter that draws on the IDF but says this effort is now only in the concept design and analysis stage.

Foreign manufacturers believe the IDF can be downgraded into an advanced trainer to replace AT-3s but it cannot so easily be turned into anF-5 replacement. They also doubt that Taiwan has the capability or budget to develop a next-generation fighter. Whether Taiwan will have the funds and be able to secure the necessary clearances to import a new Western fighter is also questionable.

While Taiwan ponders new fighters, upgrade projects for its fleet are just beginning. AIDC is developing an IDF upgrade that includes a digital cockpit, upgraded radar, strengthened landing gear and more fuel.

AIDC says it has only been contracted to build two prototypes for delivery in 2006. The air force will test the prototypes before acquiring the package for any of its 130 IDFs.

The company is offering a similar package for the F-5 domestically and internationally. On the trainer side, AIDC is leading an AT-3 life extension programme and is studying possible replacements for the Beech T-34 Mentor and Northrop T-38 Talon. Taiwan may opt to import trainers or support a joint project and has held preliminary talks with several foreign manufacturers, including Aero Vodochody.

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