Taiwan’s first indigenous advanced jet trainer (AJT) took to the air on Monday for a 20-minute inaugural flight which signalled a milestone in the development of the island’s aerospace industry. President Tsai Ing-wen was at Ching Chuan Kang airbase in the central city of Taichung to witness the maiden flight for the AJT, or Yung Yin (Brave Eagle), with two air force pilots at the controls and an Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) jet as escort. The pilots, who had conducted three tests before the launch, completed various manoeuvres before successfully landing the aircraft which was trimmed in bright red, white and blue paint with a soaring eagle on its tail fin. Officials from Taiwan’s Aviation Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) told reporters at the airbase the AJT had already cleared its required preflight dynamic and static tests. The AJT, considered one of the world’s most advanced fifth-generation trainers, can be quickly converted into a warplane and was described by Tsai as an “important milestone” for the island’s aerospace industry since AIDC built 137 IDF warplanes with the help of US technology between 1981 and 1999. “The Yung Yin … not only represents a leap in development for our aerospace industry, but also the creation of 2,000 jobs and enhancement of [jet building] experience, as well as the culture of a new generation of aerospace technicians,” Tsai said at the inaugural flight ceremony. Tsai said the AJT was designed to train air force pilots so they could safeguard the island in future, and was part of her government’s policy to develop its indigenous defence. Tsai, who won a landslide election victory in January, began her second four-year term in May with a vow to bolster the local defence industry’s ability to build its own weapons and to strengthen the island’s defence capability in the face of a growing military threat from Beijing. Cross-strait relations have been strained since Tsai, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was first elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle. Beijing, which considers Taiwan a wayward province that must be returned to the mainland fold, by force if necessary, has staged a series of war games around Taiwan, poached seven of the island’s allies and suspended official exchanges. Tsai said the AJT still needed to go through structural exhaustion testing to ensure it would be operational for at least 30 years, or 8,000 flight hours. Su Tzu-yun, a research fellow at the military-affiliated Institute for National Defence and Security Research, said the AJT was considered one of the world’s most advanced trainers because of its fully digitised cockpit and software designed to simulate a lead-in fighter trainer capable of firing missiles, enabling it to calibrate its training courses more precisely. “In time of war, once the AJTs are loaded with missiles and bombs, they would be capable of providing support for the navy and air force in cross-strait conflicts,” Su said. The NT$66.8 billion (US$2.23 billion) project was initiated in 2017 to replace the military’s decades-old AT-3 trainer aircraft and F-5E/F lead-in fighter trainers, and a prototype of the jet was first unveiled publicly in September 2019. AIDC is expected to roll out production of the first batch of AJTs in November next year before mass production in March 2023. The air force is expected to take delivery of 66 AJTs by 2026 as part of the country’s efforts to become more self-reliant militarily, according to AIDC.