Taiwan’s Navy Gets Stealthy
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

Taiwan’s Navy Gets Stealthy


Huzzah! The Taipei Times’ J. Michael Cole broke the story this weekend that Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan has levied funds to field a squadron of between seven and eleven stealthy Hsun Hai (Swift Sea) fast patrol boats by 2014. Computer generated images depict a sleek catamaran that resembles a smaller sibling of USS Independence, a variant of the U.S. Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship. Each new craft will reportedly displace around 500 tons while sporting eight domestically manufactured Hsiung Feng-II and -III antiship cruise missiles. To all appearances, the Hsun Hai constitutes a marked improvement over the ungainly Kuang Hua VI fast attack craft currently serving in the Republic of China Navy (ROCN). It packs twice the wallop of the Kuang Hua VI. It appears more stealthy, with fewer sharp angles and protuberances to attract unwanted attention from Chinese radars. And with its catamaran hull and low profile, the new man-of-war should be able to handle rough seas in the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere rather than bobbing around like a top. The plan for a Hsun Hai squadron looks like a good start.

The operating environment constitutes both challenge and opportunity for ROCN mariners. Think about Joseph Conrad’s description of the turbulent waters adjoining the island: “The China seas north and south…are seas full of everyday, eloquent facts, such as islands, sand-banks, reefs, swift and changeable currents – tangled facts that nevertheless speak to a seaman in clear and definite language.” The language of the Formosa Strait spoke to Capt. MacWhirr, the stolid protagonist of Conrad’s Typhoon, “so forcibly that he had given up his state-room below and practically lived all his days on the bridge of his ship, often having his meals sent up, and sleeping at night in the chart-room.” Employed deftly, swarms of elusive Hsun Hais could give any cross-strait invasion force a very bad day despite – indeed, because of – the harsh setting Conrad describes.

This is a topic I and my wingman (or am I his wingman?) Toshi Yoshihara have tracked closely over the past two years. (See here, here, and here.) The ROCN has long predicated its strategy on sending the surface fleet out to duel China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) on the high seas. Denuded of its covering fleet, no PLAN amphibious force could land forces along the island’s craggy seacoast. Unprotected transports make easy prey. The only trouble is that an island populated by 23 million inhabitants boasts too few resources to keep up with China’s helter-skelter naval buildup of recent years. Its surface fleet is an assemblage of aging, and aged, destroyers and frigates. Nor is any foreign government prepared to incur Beijing’s wrath by equipping the ROCN surface fleet with weaponry lethal enough to withstand a PLAN onslaught. The Aegis combat-systems suite found in America’s premier surface warships comes to mind. Accordingly, Taipei has floated a plan to acquire Oliver Hazard Perry guided-missile frigates retired by the U.S. Navy. But these low-end combatants will do little to right the cross-strait imbalance. Taiwan can no longer command the sea.

What it can do is disperse large numbers of small combatants to hardened sites – caves, shelters, fishing ports – around the island’s rough coast. Such vessels could sortie to conduct independent operations against enemy shipping. Or, they could mass their firepower in concerted “wolf pack” attacks on major PLAN formations. While Taiwan is no longer mistress of the waters lapping against its shores, “sea denial” lies within its modest means.

However welcome the news that Taipei is pursuing advanced fast attack craft, let’s not crack open the champagne just yet. First, it remains to be seen whether the Hsun Hsai program heralds a decisive turn to sea denial. According to the Taiwan Navy website: “The main mission for the ROC. Navy is to ensure the safety of our maritime space and secure our international shipping line unobstructed…In the war time, we can easily deal with our enemy’s blockade and interception operations to maintain Taiwan’s international shipping line unimpeded, and ensure Taiwan’s safety.” Preserving free navigation and resupplying outlying islands aren’t sea-denial functions, while territorial defense of the island – the core of sea denial – is strikingly absent from the ROCN’s vision and mission statements. This should give navy-watchers, the Taiwanese electorate, and political leaders pause. It takes constant, vigilant leadership to impel military institutions to reinvent themselves for new purposes. It’s far from clear that ROCN commanders have embraced the new strategy or set out to remake the navy’s culture. They may need a shove.

Second, the material dimension is worth monitoring. The obvious question is: will the craft perform as advertised? Recent shipbuilding programs such as the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship and San Antonio-class amphibious transports tell a cautionary tale. Revolutionary new technologies may not live up to their billing, even for the world’s leading navy. Proclaiming that a ship will do this or that under high-stress combat conditions is different from its actually doing so. Holding the Hsun Hai program to high standards is critical. Furthermore, the Hsun Hai is a ship in search of a builder. Several shipyards have bid on the contract, but the government evidently has not yet finalized the technical requirements for the program. Its announced goal of having hulls in the water and ready for action within two years appears fanciful in the extreme.

Darryl Monroe
May 12, 2012 at 13:01

I think the most likely scenario for a Chinese attack on Taiwan can be found in the novel “China Attacks” ….It would be, for the most part, by air. Taiwan is blessed with having very few suitable places to land by sea…sure , there would be a push for their ports as well but the first targets would be the airfields-denying Taiwan use of them and then capturing them for a Chinese airlift…this, of course, makes me sick, Taiwan is a democracy, if flawed, were as China is a repressive , totalitarian, dictatorship….I say, emphatically , sell Taiwan ANYTHING IT WANTS! I have gotten hate mail from China before about my views, whatever, go ahead and defend a system that forces people to get sterilized , amongst other things…

May 12, 2012 at 00:08

They bought a rusting scrap floating metal. The fact that they are even able to turn it into a warship is good enough testimony to the skills of Chinese shipyards.

May 11, 2012 at 08:53

The Taiwan navy should be always updated and be in advance technology of their ships in order for them to be stealthy and can strike the enemy eyes in defense of their Taiwan country against the invaders from the Chinese communist government..

The Chinese people in China were longing a democratic life and wanted to become a free human being which is they were aiming for as what they have observed in all countries around the world…

May 5, 2012 at 13:08

this is what the philippines should have.

Kimbo Y. Laurel
May 3, 2012 at 12:10

As Sun Tzu said, “Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is master of his enemy’s fate.” Taiwan go stealthy.

May 3, 2012 at 06:54

The idea that the U.S. is playing catch up to anyone in the area of naval forces is a joke. The Chinese bought an abandoned aircraft carrier intended for scrap while the U.S. has deployed them since the 1930′s constantly improving and training. At any given time the U.S. has sufficient nuclear armed and powered submarines deployed to target every significant asset on the Chinese mainland and the world never knows where they are. The Chinese may fare well against nearby coastal forces but are no match for the world’s premier naval power. Catch up indeed!

May 1, 2012 at 23:58

I guess Taiwan can use tactic “Let’s thousands Chinese fishing boat run off the gas” then send the ships out to capture few Chinese violators boats

May 1, 2012 at 13:25

Taiwan is; the US is not involved. Keep it straight.

talking points
May 1, 2012 at 00:52

Chinese has another trick, called a thousand fishing boats. Haha. China definitely has more rag tag fishing boats than anyone. Remember a Chinese fishing boat rammed into a Japanese coast guard ship? Actually that was due to the incompetence of Japanese coast guard.

Expect one day China dispatches a thousand fishing boats to Diaoyu island. Taiwan can send 200 over. On south China sea, the only island with fresh water, can self sustain life, the only one can claim a EEZ, is occupied by Taiwan on China’s behalf. What’s up with that?

China will dispatch another thousand fishing boats to South China Sea. 200 fishing patrol boats. Very interesting.

April 30, 2012 at 23:27

oh good, taiwan can use those in defence of it 9-dotted line claims as well, wonder who the us will support in a showdown between say, vietnam and taiwan.

50 cents bridgade
April 30, 2012 at 13:30

Looks like the Taiwanese and US is copying the Chinese now. The Chinese Trimaran have already in service. Go google “Chinese Trimaran” and you will see what the Chinese have done. So who is playing catch up now.

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