Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has overseen the first public test flight of a new domestically-designed and made advanced jet trainer on Monday, part of her government’s plan to boost defences in the face of a growing challenge from China.
Taiwan’s armed forces are mostly equipped by the United States, but Tsai has made the development of an advanced home-grown defence industry a priority, especially as China, which claims the island as its own, steps up military modernisation efforts.
The new AT-5 Brave Eagle, made by state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corp with a budget of 68.6 billion Taiwan dollars ($2.32bn), is the first jet made domestically since the F-CK-1 Ching-kuo fighter, which was rolled out more than three decades ago.
Speaking at an airbase in the central city of Taichung, Tsai said the new aircraft disproved critics who thought Taiwan lacked the technology and should focus on meeting its defence needs from abroad.
“The new trainer aircraft not only has created more than 2,000 job opportunities, but will also pass on experiences and cultivate a new generation of aerospace industry technical talent,” she said.
The single AT-5, flanked by a Ching-kuo fighter, made a 12-minute flight in front of Tsai. Its first official test flight was earlier this month, less than a year after the prototype was unveiled.
The trainer can be equipped with weapons. Taiwan’s air force plans on buying 66 of the planes by 2026 to replace ageing AT-3 and F-5 training aircraft.
The test flight came amid a stepped-up Chinese military presence near the democratic island.
Taiwan says China’s air force has flown near it at least seven times in the last two weeks, the latest on Sunday.
Taiwan unveiled its largest defence spending increase in more than a decade last year, and the government is also developing new, domestically-made submarines.