Taiwan eyes future indigenous combat aircraft

T-5 Brave Eagle
T-5 Brave Eagle

Research and development (R&D) on a next-generation fighter aircraft for the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) is already in progress, the president of the state-owned National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) told lawmakers during a session of the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s Parliament).

NCSIST president Art Chang revealed that work on the new indigenous fighter aircraft is presently in the first phase of R&D, with concurrent focus on aircraft propulsion and general design.

According to Chang, a total of NT$10.5 billion (US$371 million) has been allotted for this initial effort, comprising NT$8.8 billion for engine and NT$1.7 billion for aircraft design. The first phase is expected to be completed by 2024.

Plans for a new indigenous fighter aircraft were first revealed by Chang in 2017, with NCSIST submitting a budget proposal to the Legislative Yuan for approval later that year.

Besides aircraft development, Taiwan has also initiated a new 10-year programme to develop an indigenous engine. The effort will likewise be led by NCSIST and will reportedly be derived from the International Turbine Engine Company (ITEC) TFE-1042-70 turbofan engine used by the in-service Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) F-CK-1 Ching Kuo multirole Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF).

AIDC has also developed the T-5 Yung Yin (Brave Eagle) advanced jet trainer/light fighter aircraft, which performed its maiden flight in June 2020 and will soon be delivered to the RoCAF for operational testing and evaluation. The service is expected to acquire around 66 T-5 aircraft to replace its ageing AT-3 training aircraft by 2026, with a potential light attack aircraft variant being investigated as a possible replacement for its Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II combat aircraft.

The RoCAF will also receive a much needed airpower boost with the order of 66 new Lockheed Martin F-16Vs worth around US$8 billion including weapons and logistics support in August 2019, with deliveries expected between 2023 and 2026.

The new aircraft will join around 141 in-service F-16 aircraft, which are undergoing refit to the latest F-16V standard under the Phoenix Rising programme. Taiwan recently announced that 42 of these aircraft have already completed this process.

by Jr Ng