Taiwan Will Halve the Size of New Frigates to Cut Costs on Shadowing Chinese Ships

Sputnik News


Fantine Gardinier

Since Taiwan welcomed a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in August, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has carried out regular drills in the waters surrounding the island in an attempt to pressure Taipei to halt its provocative actions.

In Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan on Wednesday, military leaders told lawmakers that significant costs could be saved if its next generation of frigates were reduced in size by more than half.

“The [PLA] has recently increased deployments of vessels and patrol missions in waters close to Taiwan … and we have to send vessels to shadow and monitor the PLA warships every day,” Chiang Cheng-kuo, chief of staff of Taiwan’s navy, told lawmakers, adding that the missions were extremely costly.

The autonomous island’s navy includes 26 major surface warships, including four destroyers and 22 frigates, as well as 13 smaller patrol vessels called corvettes. However, most of its warships are old, bought from the United States and France after their respective navies retired them. Moreover, none are smaller than 3,600 tons, and most of the frigates are just over 4,000 tons. Meanwhile, the destroyers clock in at 9,700 tons.

In combat, larger ships can be useful, carry more weapons or equipment, and better survive a hit from enemy weapons. However, in the cat-and-mouse game of patrolling and escorting PLAN vessels around the island’s claimed waters, they can be unwieldy and expensive, as well as taxing on their comparatively large crews.

In late August, Taiwan’s navy realized this shortcoming and proposed downsizing its forthcoming class of frigates, the Zhonghai-class, reducing their tonnage from 4,500 tons to between 1,500 and 2,000 tons each. Lighter ships use less fuel and have fewer crew. A name change reflected the difference: “New Generation Guided-Missile Frigate” became “New Generation Light Frigate,” Taiwan’s media at the time.

In wartime, the combat duties of frigates often involve blue-water anti-submarine patrols or escort duties, although many modern frigates are often equipped with anti-air and anti-ship capabilities as well. The Zhonghai-class is anticipated to fulfill all such duties.

Beijing considers Taiwan a part of China. The government in Taipei is all that remains of the Republic of China, the government that ruled all of China between the abdication of the last Chinese emperor in 1912 and the triumph of the socialist revolution in 1949, at the conclusion of the civil war. Beijing has proposed reunification with Taiwan under a “One Country, Two Systems” principle that would respect the island’s autonomy and its capitalist economy, but says continued US support for Taiwan’s defiance has created a crisis.

The US switched its recognition of the legitimate Chinese government from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but has continued to funnel weapons to Taiwan sufficient to help it defend its autonomy. The Chinese have denounced this arrangement as meddling in Chinese internal affairs and a violation of its sovereignty.

After Pelosi, the third-highest-ranking politician in the US government, visited Taiwan in August and condemned China, the PLA launched several rounds of massive military drills around the island, including firing missiles over it.

© Sputnik


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John Pike