September 19, 2015:
Taiwan has been quick to update its latest class of warships. In March 2015 Taiwan put the first of twelve 567 ton stealthy twin-hulled missile boats into service. Construction took about two years and the first ship (the Tuo Jiang) cost $72 million. Taiwan recently revealed that this first corvette is being used to test some new features for the other eleven ships of the Tuo Jiang class. One interesting aspect of this is that in the rear of the corvette there is space for two standard 20 foot (6.1 meter) shipping containers. Currently the corvette has a towed sonar array system in one container and a crane in the other to launch and retrieve a six meter RIB (Rigid hull Inflatable Boat) for boarding parties or commandos. This ship will also be used to test upgraded versions of missiles it already carries as well as new missile systems, including an anti-aircraft/anti-missile missile system.
These are actually large missile boats designated as corvettes. Each Tuo Jiang carries 16 anti-ship missiles (eight each of Hsiung Feng 2 subsonic/range of 160 kilometers and Hsiung Feng 3 supersonic/range 130 kilometers), a 76mm gun, a 20mm Phalanx autocannon (for missile defense), two 12.7mm machine-gun and six torpedo tubes plus a large array of electronics, including electronic countermeasures. The stealth and defensive electronics are meant to keep these ships afloat long enough to use most of their missiles against their more numerous Chinese counterparts. This includes the new Chinese aircraft carriers. These corvettes have a crew of 41, a top speed of 71 kilometers an hour and a helicopter pad. They carry sufficient fuel, water and food to stay at sea up to a week at a time. They are basically coastal defense ships.
Then there are the locally made anti-ship missiles. It was only in 2011 that Taiwan admitted that their warships were already equipped with the new Hsiung Feng 3 anti-ship missile. This weapon was in development for over a decade, and it was rumored that production began in 2008. Over 300 of these missiles are believed to be in service (aboard ships or in land based launchers). The 6.1 meter (19 foot) long Hsiung-feng 3 weighs 1.5 tons (with a 181 kg/400 pound warhead) and has a top speed of 2,300 kilometers an hour. Max range is 130 kilometers. It uses inertial and GPS guidance to get to the general vicinity of the target, then several other sensors to lock on to a specific ship and hit it.
Taiwan tends to develop its new weapons quietly and then suddenly reveal them. The Hsiung Feng 3, for example, suddenly began showing up in military parades, with little official comment, after 2008. One reason for keeping quiet about new weapons is that it keeps the press away from embarrassing development problems. There were some additional difficulties with the Hsiung-feng 3, after it went into production. The worst of these had to do with the very high speeds and damage that this caused to some components. It's also believed that the max range was reduced to deal with some technical problems.
The Hsiung-feng 3 has already been installed on destroyers and frigates and now the new 567 ton stealth corvettes. For these ships the designers were told to get as many of the large (for a 567 ton ship) Hsiung-feng 3s on it as possible (up to eight). In addition there are eight of the smaller Hsiung-feng 2.
These new corvettes are the continuation of a trend in the Taiwanese Navy, which sees small ships carrying lots of anti-ship missiles as the key to success against the Chinese navy. Thus in 2010 the first of 31 KH-6 guided missile patrol boats entered service. These 34.2 meter (106 foot) long, seven meter (22 foot) wide, 170 ton ships have a crew of 19. They were armed with four Hsiung Feng-2 anti-ship missiles, a 20mm autocannon, two 7.62mm machine-guns, and two decoy (for incoming missiles) launchers. Top speed is 55 kilometers an hour. At cruising speed of 22 kilometers an hour, the ships can stay at sea for about two days at a time. All 31 KH-6s are now in service. The KH-6s replace thirty older and smaller (57 ton) Hai Ou class boats. These patrol boats guard the coast, and especially the 180 kilometers wide Taiwan Straits that separate China and Taiwan.
The one major weakness of these missile boats is that they have no real air defenses and depend on the Taiwanese maintaining air superiority whenever and wherever these small craft are operating. Without that air cover these small ships would be target practice for Chinese warplanes.