Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), Taiwan’s leading aircraft manufacturer and military contractor, announced on Wednesday (May 3) that Taiwan is seeking help and cooperation from the United States to independently build the next generation of fighter planes. AIDC is Taiwan’s leading aircraft manufacturer and defence contractor.
According to AIDC Chairman Hu Kai-hung, a speaker at the inauguration of the US-Taiwan Defence Industry Cooperation Forum on Wednesday in Taipei, indigenous development is a long-term plan. He hoped that the United States would support its development of the next generation of fighter planes following the success of the AIDC T-5 Brave Eagle advanced jet trainer, a domestically made next-generation trainer aircraft.
At the Forum, Robert Moss, the executive of the US-based Teledyne FLIR, and Hu Kai-hung, the chairman of AIDC, held discussions.
F-16 and Mirage fighters, purchased from the United States and France, respectively, serve as Taiwan’s primary aircraft for combat. In addition, the Taiwanese Air Force operates the Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) F-CK-1 Ching-Kuo, which was designed and manufactured by AIDC over three decades ago.
Taiwan’s Next Generation Fighter Project
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence recently examined the Air Force’s proposal to initiate the “Next Generation Main Fighter Jet Development Plan” in 2023. According to reports, the Air Force intends to construct two prototype aircraft for the project: an A1 flight test prototype and a T1 ground static test aircraft. The budget for the endeavour should not exceed 15 billion New Taiwan Dollars (about 495 million USD). To reduce development time, the “Angel Project” team at the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) completed the prototype aircraft’s structure and internal details. The fighter jet’s twin engine is being procured from the US. The Air Force had recently submitted an order with GE Aviation for the GE F414-400 engine. Before the conclusion of President Tsai Ing-wen’s term in May 2024, the prototype aircraft is expected to be completed and displayed, and the maiden flight is scheduled for 2025. The A1 prototype aircraft will use the GE F414-400 engine, also used by the KAI KF-21 Boramae fighter.
According to reports, the “0305” project team composed of the Air Force, the NCSIST and Hanxiang Aviation Industry Co., Ltd. visited the United States and the United Kingdom in early April to select equipment. Due to the long manufacturing cycle of the engine, the Taiwanese side has officially submitted a procurement procedure to the US, hoping to obtain the engine within the research and development period.
Most of the equipment for the fighter jet has been decided, such as the ejection seat, which Martin-Baker of the UK and the avionics systems by Harris Corporation of the US. BAE Systems of the UK had pitched for the cockpit’s primary display and the fighter jet’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. It is not yet known if the BAE offer has been accepted.
Due to escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait, the next stage of the next-generation fighter jet project will begin development in 2023.
A bit of history
The Next Generation Advanced High-Performance Fighter Key Technology Development Plan, also known as the Advanced Defence Fighter (ADF), which includes 24 key technologies, reportedly received more than 8.78 billion New Taiwan Dollars (approximately 289 million US dollars) in 2019 from NCSIST. Originally, the “Weaver Star Project” was intended to develop the propulsion system of the next-generation fighter aircraft based on the TFE-1042-70 engine of the in-service IDF fighter. However, various technical constraints have slowed the Weaver Star Project’s development.
In response to the escalating cross-strait situation, the Ministry of National Defence requested that the next-generation primary fighter aircraft enter the design phase in 2020. The aircraft must have stealth and high propulsion, so the “Angel Project” transitioned from a key technology development plan to a prototype design plan. The completion date has been pushed back from 2022 to 2024. After the prototype design is finalised, six aircraft will be produced in 2026 instead of nine aircraft in 2029 for various tests and evaluations.
According to reports, the Angel Project team extensively referenced the configurations of stealth fighters from various nations. In response to the Air Force’s demand for stealth and high thrust, it extensively referenced the configuration of the F-35 fighter aircraft. The final design of the prototype is 90% comparable to that of the South Korean KF-X fighter.
Taiwan announced on March 22 that the “domestic” high-performance engine under the Vega project is ahead of schedule and that research and development will be completed in 2023.
NCSIST President Chang Chung-cheng verified to the Legislative Yuan that his institution is developing a fighter jet of the next generation, with some progress made ahead of schedule. According to informed sources, the fighter jet’s configuration and design have been completed ahead of schedule. The model of the next-generation fighter aircraft has already been created.
NCSIST’s plan includes an internal weapons bay design to enhance their stealth capabilities and increase their ammunition-carrying capacity compared to existing fighter jets. The jet will also be equipped with domestically produced new AESA radar and active electronic warfare systems.
NCSIST plans to equip the fighter with extended-range Sky Sword II missiles and improved Sky Sword I missiles in the internal weapons bay configuration. It will also be equipped with air-launched Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missiles or extended-range Wan Chien missiles to meet the requirements of sea control and ground attack missions.
The second next-generation project
Previously, NCSIST Director Chang Chung-Cheng had informed the Legislative Yuan that two research and development projects are underway for the next generation of fighter jets. Former Minister of National Defence and current Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Council, Feng Shih-kuan, revealed at the Veterans Day ceremony in 2022 that Hanxiang Aviation Industry Co., Ltd. has been working on a ten-year military aircraft renovation project for the armed forces, which includes a new generation of fighter jets and advanced and primary training aircraft. The new generation of fighter aircraft has already been tested in a wind tunnel, and its external shape and structure have been designed. However, only the engine and variable nozzles remain unfinished, rendering vertical and short-field takeoffs and landings impossible.