Taiwan showcases new warships in display of deterrence to China

General

Taiwan has showcased some of its indigenous-built warships at an event designed to send a message of deterrence to China, local officials and analysts said.

Over the weekend, the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense held a naval exercise off the coast of Keelung in northeastern Taiwan, part of three days of multi-disciplinary drills at different locations to demonstrate the military’s combat readiness, the ministry’s news service said.

“We want the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) [of China] to think twice before it acts,” Col. Sun Li-fang from the Taiwanese Army Command’s Political Warfare Bureau told media at one of the drills.

The Defense Ministry said two Taiwanese-designed corvettes, including the newly commissioned Ta Chiang, took part in the naval exercise on Friday. They were seen conducting tracking and firing simulations in rough seas conditions.

The 500-ton corvettes, dubbed “aircraft carrier killers,” were built by the Lung Teh Shipbuiding Company in Yilan County. They are armed with Sea Sword II medium-range air defense missiles, anti-ship missiles, 76 mm cannons and close-in weapons systems.

Shu Hsiao-huang, an analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, was quoted by the state-run Central News Agency (CNA) as describing the ships as "mobile, stealthy, fast, and powerful."

The corvettes can be fitted with missile launchers if needed, but Shu was quoted as said that at the meantime, they are well suited for “gray zone” patrols, including in the South China Sea. Gray zone activities are generally not explicit acts of war but harmful to the security of a nation.

In 2011, the Taiwanese parliament approved a budget of over US$850 million to build up to 12 new warships to deal with new maritime challenges mainly from China. With around 360 ships at the end of 2020, China has the largest navy in the world, according to a U.S. Defense Department report.

Beijing regards Taiwan, a self-governing island located about 100 miles (160 kilometers) off the mainland, as part of China. It has stepped up military drills in the island’s vicinity. Taiwan views itself as a sovereign state. It is also a claimant in the South China Sea, along with Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Minelaying systems

At the naval drill, the Taiwanese navy also showcased for the first time its home-designed, automatic minelaying system used aboard new Min Jiang-class vessels. These mine-laying vessels are not large but have hi-tech navigation capabilities that said to facilitate fast and accurate mine-laying operations in enemy waters.

The island’s navy has four indigenous-built rapid minelaying ships – two of them delivered only last month.

Last weekend’s exercise was conducted using a worst-case scenario – a PLA attack - explained Qi Leyi, a Taipei-based military analyst and commentator for RFA Mandarin.

“The new fast minelaying boats can greatly prevent the enemy’s beach-landing operations and become a reliable combat force for Taiwan's multi-domain deterrence,” Qi said.

“Taiwan cannot compare with China in terms of the number of warships, so it’s got to look for a better technology,” he added.

Mine warfare has become increasingly important in maritime conflicts, as sea mines are among the most dangerous naval weapons. The PLA Navy last month conducted a large-scale bomb dropping and sea mine-laying exercise on islands in the South China Sea.

China conducts frequent military drills in disputed waters, but it's unusual for the PLA to deploy warplanes to drop bombs and lay mines in a live-fire exercise.

Navy soldiers prepare to depart on a Tuo Chiang-class corvette during a drill in Keelung, Taiwan, Jan. 7, 2022. Credit: Reuters
Navy soldiers prepare to depart on a Tuo Chiang-class corvette during a drill in Keelung, Taiwan, Jan. 7, 2022. Credit: Reuters