April 26 (UPI) -- Taiwan has begun to manufacture next-generation trainer jets as it militarizes an island in the South China Sea in response to Chinese buildup in the Spratly Islands.
Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times reported Wednesday that Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology president Chang Guang-chung signed a contract, on behalf of the government to produce 66 advanced jet trainers with the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation.
The policy measure is being taken as part of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's initiative to domestically develop the country's fighter aircraft, according to the report.
Taiwanese Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan, Mayor of Taoyuan Cheng Wen-tsan, and Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Shen Jong-chin were in attendance at the signing ceremony.
A briefing session on the future aircraft's engine, system parts and auxiliary systems was held for potential contractors.
The air force's older F-5 fighters are in service but are to be gradually phased out, while the advanced jet trainer AT-3 Tzu Chung has been in service for more than 30 years.
Taiwan plans to replace all trainer jets with the domestic aircraft in 10 years, according to the press report.
Taiwan has previously stated the F-5 and AT-3 aircraft will be decommissioned in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
The defense ministry is to allocate $2.8 billion until 2020 to develop the advanced trainers, and begin testing the jets until 2026, when 66 units are planned for deployment.
Militarization of China-claimed islands in the South China Sea is ongoing, but international interest has waned in Beijing's actions with the recent escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.