Taichung, central Taiwan, Jan. 14 (CNA) The ROC Air Force took delivery of the last of 130 locally developed defense fighters on Friday, marking the start of a new era in the island's military aircraft development plan.

Vice Premier Liu Chao-hsiuan presided over a ceremonial delivery of the last of the planes at the Shalu plant of the state-owned Aerospace Industry Development Corp. (AIDC) in the central county of Taichung.

Defense Minister Tang Fei, Air Force Commander-in-Chief Chen Chao-min, Vice Economics Minister Yin Chi-ming, and many other senior government and military officials attended the ceremony.

Liu noted that the Republic of China decided to develop indigenous advanced fighters in the 1980s, at a time when major foreign countries were reluctant to sell high-performance warplanes to Taiwan.

And the ROC managed to strike deals for the purchase of 150 US-made F-16 jet fighters and 60 French-made Mirage 2000-5 jet fighters in the early 1990s, by which time the development and manufacture of the IDF fighters was already well under way, Liu recalled.

The first single-seater IDF prototype rolled off the assembly line on Dec. 10, 1988, and was christened by President Lee Teng-hui the "Ching-kuo IDF fighter-interceptor" in memory of the late President Chiang Ching-kuo, who first broached the development project in line with his policy of developing self-reliant defense technology for the nation.

The Air Force originally planned to buy 250 IDFs. After striking the F-16 and Mirage deals with the United States and France, respectively, the military cut its IDF order to 130 planes.

In addition to IDFs, the Air Force has also taken delivery all the 60 Mirage fighters and more than 100 F-16s. The three types of warplanes now form the backbone of the ROC's second-generation warplane fleet.

The military has formed two IDF wings which are deployed at the Taichung and Tainan air bases. The IDF can be armed with locally developed Tien-chien (Sky Sword) I air-to-air short-range missile and Tien-chien II medium-range missile and many kinds of powerful bombs.

Liu said the delivery of the last IDF didn't mark an end to Taiwan's aviation technology development, adding that the AIDC will continue providing maintenance services and technology support for the Air Force as well as seeking ways to further upgrade IDF designs and performances.

Liu also promised that the government will help the AIDC complete privatization as early as possible.

Noting that aerospace ranks among a list of industries selected by the government for intensive development, Liu said the government is actively promoting the development of military and commercial aviation technologies and will assist domestic aerospace manufacturers in forging strategic alliances or cooperative ties with qualified foreign counterparts.

"Anyway, we'll overcome any difficulties and create a better environment for aerospace industry development," Liu added.

Meanwhile, AIDC Chairman Tsai Chun-hui said the company's annual business turnover will decline by an estimated NT$10 billion this year due to the completion of the Air Force's IDF order.

Tsai said the AIDC plans to form a joint venture with several local civil air companies, including China Airlines, EVA Airways and Air Asia Co., to expand its military and commercial aircraft maintenance business.

In addition, Tsai said the company will intensify efforts to seek foreign orders. The AIDC's plant in the southern Taiwan township of Kangshan has received engine orders from the US-based General Electric Co. It has also formed cooperative projects with several US aerospace firms, including Boeing Co. Such cooperative projects, however, have not yet turned profits. (By Sofia Wu)