Taiwan has rejected proposals from the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) to upgrade its fleet of Northrop F-5s and develop a new advanced trainer. It is instead considering importing new trainers that could be assembled by the company, say industry sources. AIDC began flight testing a demonstrator for the proposed F-5 upgrade in 2002, and also began studying a downgraded version of its IDF light fighter to replace Taiwan's fleet of about 50 AIDC AT-3 advanced trainers.

The company confirms that the F-5 upgrade has been halted due to a lack of interest, but says the indigenous trainer programme could still advance, as the air force will not make a decision on an AT-3 replacement until 2005-6. Potential candidates for the programme, which could be opened to international competition, include the Aermacchi M346, Aero Vodochody L-159, BAE Systems Hawk, EADS Mako and Korea Aerospace Industries T-50. AIDC is in line to manufacture a large portion of the airframe and conduct final assembly.

Trainer manufacturers also expect Taiwan to evaluate similar local assembly/co-production alternatives in deciding on a replacement for its air force fleet of about 40 Cessna T-34 primary trainers.

With the likely loss of the F-5 modernisation and IDF trainer development deals, AIDC is preparing to identify alternative projects.

Taiwan, meanwhile, is to proceed with a special $15 billion defence budget plan that includes the purchase of 12 used Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare (ASW)aircraft and new Lockheed Martin/Raytheon PAC-3 Patriot air-defence missiles. It is expected to be approved by June/July.

About $1.2 billion is being set aside for the ASW acquisition. The US Navy earlier this year indicated that surplus P-3Cs could be made available and supplied price and availability information on eight aircraft (Flight International, 2-8 March). It has since adjusted its offer to 12 aircraft, matching Taiwan's full requirement.

Lockheed Martin is reviewing the capabilities of four local firms to participate in a service life extension and mission system upgrade: AIDC, Air Asia, China Airlines' in-house maintenance arm and EVA Air's Evergreen Aviation Technologies.

Source: Flight International