Surface Forces: Taiwan Goes It Alone


July 6, 2016: In June 2016 Taiwan revealed another major purchase of locally built warships. For about $15 billion Taiwan will build and put into service a 7,000 ton Aegis type destroyer, a frigate, a submarine, high-speed mine layer, a 16,000 ton LPD amphibious ship and a multipurpose transport ship. In addition Taiwan will design and build its own armored amphibious assault vehicle (similar to the American AAV7) and an underwater naval commando delivery vehicle (similar to ones the U.S. Navy SEALs use). Taiwan will also develop and build most of the electronics for this ships and use existing and planned Taiwanese built anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. This is a major move for Taiwan, which has long sought to buy much of this stuff more cheaply abroad. Taiwan believes that is no longer a realistic option.

For over a decade Taiwan has been attempting to upgrade its military with new weapons and better training, yet there is little progress in either area. Purchase of new weapons was quietly delayed and training reforms put off. While making the military stronger is popular with Taiwanese in general, for a long time government officials seemed more concerned with not upsetting China. Despite that China has vigorously opposed any efforts to help build a stronger Taiwanese military. This growing military weakness versus China has become more of an issue in Taiwan and there was growing pressure to improve training and reduce corruption within the military before it was too late. Yet many Taiwanese prefer to believe that the United States will protect Taiwan from Chinese aggression. That is no longer a sure thing either and over the last few years Taiwan has been preparing for the worse.

In 2015 China put into service two 3,000 ton patrol ships, which are the largest ships in the Coast Guard. Each ship is armed with one 40mm and two 20mm autocannon plus a water cannon. There is a helicopter landing pad aft and the ships have a top speed of 43 kilometers an hour and endurance of about three weeks. One will patrol the South China Sea and the other the East China Sea. These two ships are part of a $790 million building program begun in 2008 and when it is completed in the next few years the coast guard will have 37 new vessels. At that point the coast guard will have 173 ships and patrol boats. Many of these will be operating near Taiwan.

In response the Taiwanese Navy is building more heavily armed patrol boats. For example, in late 2014, four years after issuing the contract (to design and build the first of twelve 500 ton stealthy twin-hulled missile boats) Taiwan commissioned (put into service) the first of these ships. Construction took about two years and the first ship cost $72 million. These are actually large missile boats designated as corvettes. Each carries 16 anti-ship missiles (eight Hsiung Feng 2 subsonic/range of 160 kilometers and eight 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. These ships carry sufficient fuel, water and food to stay at sea up to a week at a time. They are basically coastal defense ships. 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.

In 2010 the first of 31 smaller 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. That appears to be one reason for the new program to build locally what could not be obtained overseas (because of Chinese diplomacy and threats).


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