Taiwan Plans Stealthy 900-Ton Warships
BY WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Taiwan’s recently announced plans to build a new 900ton warship is just the vanguard of a projected new generation of lowobservable surface combatant vessels tailored to battle in the Taiwan Strait, analysts said.
On April 12, officials with the Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed the existence of a program to develop a stealthy catamaran vessel called the Taiwan Coastal Patrol Vessel.
Navy officials want a basic design that could be scaled up, “possibly to create a family of twin-hulled or even tri-hulled multipurpose surface combatant applications of various displacement sizes,” said Fu S. Mei, director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center.
“The Navy has a requirement for a 900-ton corvette” to replace aging fast-attack missile boats and the eight Knox-class frigates nearing retirement, one MND source said.
The ship will be developed by the Naval Shipbuilding Center in Kaohsiung under the Hsunhai (Swift Sea) program.
The program is still in the research and design stage and no funding for a prototype has been allocated.
The MND source noted that the Hsunhai program had been “killed and resurrected on numerous occasions in the past,” and recent reports are an attempt by the Navy to “float a balloon” to generate more interest and support for the program.
There is also concern over the catamaran hull design.
“We don’t have any experience building this type of hull. It will be a technical challenge,” the source said.
Local media have dubbed the vessel the “carrier killer,” a reference to China’s aircraft carrier plans and the plans by Taiwan to arm the corvette with its latest anti-ship missile, the Hsiung Feng III (Brave Wind).
But Fu dismissed that label and said the new vessels will be built to handle multiple missions.
An MND artist’s conception shows a ship armed with what appear to be eight surfaceto-surface Hsiung Feng III missiles, a Phalanx Close-In Weapons System for air defense and a 76mm bow gun. Sources indicate the vessel is 130 feet long, will have a crew of 45 and attain 30 knots.
An aft helicopter deck in the drawing suggests the vessel might participate in anti-submarine warfare, even hosting S-70C or 500MD helicopters from the Navy’s three ASW squadrons.
All in all, the ship “shapes up as more multimission platform than ‘fire and die’ missile shooter,” said Bob Nugent, vice president of advisory services at AMI International. “The craft in the photo looks more like a small corvette vice a pure missile boat.” Nugent compared it to the Swedish Visby, another stealth multimission corvette that displaces less than 1,000 tons.
Taiwanese analysts compared the ship’s stealth features and catamaran design to the Chinese 220-ton Houbei-class (Type 022) fast attack missile boat.
U.S. companies have already expressed interest in supplying the combat systems, radars and other equipment, but it appears the military plans to rely on indigenous systems. The combat system will include a distributed-architecture combat direction system developed by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, “together with an indigenous search/track and fire-control radar and electro-optical director,” Fu said.
The Navy might simply transfer some of the systems from its eight Knox-class frigates and 12 Jin Chiang-class missile patrol boats to save money, the MND source said.
The Navy also has equipment in storage from the seven decommissioned Gearingclass destroyers recently sunk to make artificial reefs.
Taiwan has been making progress in stealth designs for ships. It is currently constructing the first Kwang Hua 6 (KH-6), a stealthy 180ton fast-attack patrol boat armed with four Hsiung Feng IIs. A planned 29 KH-6s will replace 40 47-ton Hai Oui (Sea Gull) fast-attack missile patrol boats, each of which carries a pair of Hsiung Feng Is.