Taiwan has debuted the first advanced jet trainer built by the island as part of a defence programme to make more of its own weapons to counter the growing military threat from mainland China. The debut in the central city of Taichung on Tuesday came a day after lawmakers at a preliminary budget meeting unanimously approved a NT$250 billion (US$8 billion) plan to buy 66 F-16 Viper fighter jets from the United States. Speaking at the dedication ceremony for the “Brave Eagle” jet trainers, President Tsai Ing-wen said the island had no time to waste in developing its own military aircraft, an industry that has stalled on Taiwan since the 1990s. “Through the construction of the [Brave Eagle], we have not only increased global exchanges [on production], but have also created job opportunities ... to promote talent at home,” Tsai said. She said the NT$68.6 billion project had created 1,200 jobs at the builder, Taichung-based Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC), since production started in 2017 and another 800 jobs would be created by 2021. Tsai added that the completion of the prototype in under three years indicated advances in the island’s jet technology. American Viper jets a boost to Taiwan’s defences ‘but no game changer’ with China AIDC is expected to build 66 such trainers by 2026, with the jet scheduled to have its maiden flight in June next year. Small-scale production would start in 2021 and mass output in March 2023. The new trainers, based on Taiwan’s Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) jet, would replace the US-made AT-3 trainer and F-5E/F jets, the defence ministry said. The Brave Eagles will have similar equipment as the F-16s, allowing pilots to gain experience before progressing to the warplanes. Taiwan’s legislature is expected to soon approve the NT$250 billion budget for the F-16Vs, which will be based in Taitung in eastern Taiwan. The fighter jets would help reinforce and update the island’s military aircraft fleet, which included IDFs, Mirage 2000s, and F-16 A/Bs, the military said. The US State Department approved the sale of the F-16Vs to Taiwan in August, prompting a strong protest from Beijing. Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that must return to the mainland’s fold by force if necessary. It has warned other countries, the US in particular, against selling arms to the island. Since Tsai became president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle, Beijing has stepped up military intimidation against Taipei staging a number of war games around the island. It has also poached seven of Taiwan’s allies and suspended official exchanges with the island to try to pressure Tsai. However, Tsai decided to strengthen Taiwan’s defences by developing and building its own weapons, including submarines, and buying more advanced weapons from the US. The defence ministry has also planned to focus its attention on using remote strike power against any invading troops. In a legislature session on Wednesday, the ministry is expected to propose developing or buying sophisticated drones and precision-guided weapons to attack enemy troops before they land on Taiwan, according to a legislature source. The island’s remote strike power would also be bolstered by M1A2T Abrams tanks, shoulder-fired missiles and the F-16Vs, the source said. The ministry’s plan was sent to the legislature’s foreign relations and national defence committee last week for delivery on Wednesday.