Taiwan budgets for 12-year, $2.9 billion advanced jet trainer programme

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan aims to spend NT$68.6 billion (S$2.9 billion) over 12 years from 2017 to develop its own jet trainers, according to budget data seen on Wednesday (Aug 31), signalling the independence-leaning government's resolve to build up the defence industry.

China has never renounced the use of force to take back the self-ruled island, which it sees as a renegade province, and maintains that any bid to declare independence would lead to war.

"New model advanced jet trainers" will be developed to replace the air force's ageing fleet and an initial NT$555 million is being set aside for the programme in 2017, according to the defence ministry's detailed budget seen by Reuters.

Budget allocations for the programme that runs to 2028 amount to NT$68.6 billion, according to the ministry.

Taiwan has been working to develop its own defence equipment such as small warships for the navy. In the past, it has developed fighter jets.

But technology transfer from allies is critical to the success of its indigenous programmes.

Last year, Taiwan allocated an initial budget for developing its own submarines, but the multi-year programme has yet to receive key foreign technological support.

The United States approved an US$1.83 billion (S$2.5 billion) arms deal to Taiwan in December, the first such sale in four years, but it was mostly aimed at updating existing equipment and munitions.

Weapons sales to diplomatically isolated Taiwan anger China.

Beijing distrusts President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which traditionally favours the island's independence.

The Chinese government has blamed her for a suspension of official communications between the two sides since she took power in May.

Tsai has refused to officially accept a "one China"principle agreed to by a previous China-friendly Nationalist government in Taiwan that allows both sides to interpret the term's meaning.

Taiwan and the United States have close security ties and the United States is required by law to support Taiwan in defending itself, making it the island's sole arms supplier.

The budget for the advanced jet trainers is pending parliamentary review, but is likely to be approved because the ruling DPP also has a majority in parliament.