Details of the program will be released in November, but Navy officials provided some information about the scope of the massive build plan during the live-fire field training event during the annual Han Kuang exercises off the east coast of Taiwan on Sept. 17.
None of the new ships and submarines will be built by the US. Instead, Taiwan will rely on the combined efforts of its Ocean Industries Research and Development Center for design, the Taiwanese military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) for systems and integration, and the Taiwan-based China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. for construction.
The Navy hopes to finish the design and development stage in five to 10 years, depending on the budget and complexity of each vessel, a Navy official said.
Taiwan will seek Western assistance on various components and systems, but their determination to build the ships in Taiwan remains firm.
Producing them in Taiwan creates jobs and skills, reduces reliance on restrictive US government export policies, and reduces corruption, the Navy official said. US and European defense companies have a history of hiring local agents with ties to organized crime and Beijing’s intelligence apparatus.
This year’s Han Kuang exercise demonstrated a confidence in Taiwan’s Navy to counter China’s growing naval prowess. The exercise, part of the Han Kuang’s joint interdiction phase, included ships and aircraft organized into task groups. Every class of warship participated, from the stealthy Kuang Hua 6 fast-attack missile boat to the Kidd-class destroyers. Aircraft included S-70C helicopters, P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and F-16 fighter aircraft.
Various drills and operations were carried out based on the exercise scenario, including live firing of an anti-ship rocket, depth charges, ship guns and Phalanx close-in weapon systems. “The [field training exercise] reveals not only the superior combat capability of the new-generation naval and Air Force platforms, but also the great training achievements of men and women involved in the exercise,” a Navy spokesperson said. The exercise tests combat effectiveness in force preservation, high sea maneuver and joint interdiction, he said.
Over the next 20 years, the Navy must replace these systems as they age, and there are no guarantees Taiwan’s reliance on US-made weapon systems will continue as Beijing’s influence on Washington grows. Taiwan’s three classes of frigates — Perry, Knox and La Fayette — and the Kidd-class destroyers, will need to be replaced, Navy officials said during the exercise.
The Navy will introduce the plan to the public in November for local build programs for four 10,000-ton destroyers, 10 to 15 3,000-ton catamaran frigates, amphibious transport docks to replace 11 dock landing ships and tank landing ships, and four-to-eight diesel 1,200-3,000-ton submarines to replace two Dutch-built submarines.
US companies will still be allowed to participate in the supply of many systems, Navy officials said, but reliance on local companies will be the focus. The Indigenous Defense Submarine program is the only possible exception. US and European companies can partner with Taiwan on the program, “if they come in early enough,” a Navy official said. “There will be four subs initially, perhaps eight if the budget is there.”
The local build catamarans will be outfitted with 3D phased-array radar and vertical launch missiles. If the US cannot supply the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 air defense missile system, the Navy will commission CSIST to build a missile system based on the Tien Kung (Sky Bow) air defense missile system. CSIST also builds the Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind) anti-ship missile family, Tien Chien (Sky Sword) air defense missile family, and the new land-attack cruise missile.
Taiwan’s local build experience already includes eight Perry-class frigates (Cheng Kung-class), 31 170-ton Kuang Hua 6 fast-attack missile boats armed with Hsiung Feng 2 missiles, 11 500-ton Ching Chiang-class missile patrol boats armed with ramjet-powered supersonic Hsiung Feng 3 missiles, and is building 12 600-ton Hsun Hai-class (Sea Swift-class) corvettes also armed with the Hsiung Feng 3.
The Navy’s build program will face hurdles from budget declines in coming years. The military’s finances will be put to the test as it reduces personnel and implements an all-volunteer force.
Taiwan Navy's Perry-class frigate launches an ASROC (anti-submarine rocket) during the annual Han Kuang military exercises, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014.