Taiwan lawmakers say yes to navy micro-boats, but want to see a prototype first

  • Restricted funding for 60-strong assault fleet until legislators are satisfied the design is right
  • War boats will be the size of fishing vessels
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 6:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 9:16pm

Taiwan’s parliament has given initial support to an NT$31.6 billion (US$1 billion) naval plan to build a fleet of small assault boats to boost the self-ruled island’s defence in the face of a growing military threat from the mainland.

But legislators from both the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) want to see a prototype before committing to the full funding package for the planned 60 micro-boats, intended to improve Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare capability.

In a review of the NT$468 million allocated to the first year of the project in 2019, lawmakers agreed on Wednesday to approve half of the budgeted spending.

“We have decided to slash NT$200 million from the NT$468 million budget for next year as we believe it would be more effective for the navy to first complete a prototype of the assault boat to see if there is room for adjustment or improvement before mass production of the vessels,” KMT legislator Johnny Chiang said.

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His DPP colleague Tsai Shih-ying said the decision was meant to ensure the construction funding went to the right place.

The boats, each weighing 40-50 metric tons, will have a similar radar footprint to ordinary fishing vessels, with room on board for between two and three officers. The vessels will achieve a maximum speed of 35 knots per hour and be able to hide easily in fishing ports.

A military source has said the boats will be deployed in fishing ports, bays and river estuaries.

Each boat will be equipped with two Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missiles developed by the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, which has also been entrusted with managing the tender process for construction.

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The first batch of boats is expected in 2023 with delivery of all 60 vessels completed by 2029.

The decision to build the fleet of micro-boats followed reports earlier this year that the People’s Liberation Army was expanding its military power with new large surface warships.

But some legislators have questioned the plan, and the need for another small-sized boat, given that Taiwan’s navy already has 31 anti-aircraft missile-equipped Kuang Hua VI-class missile boats which are still in active service.

Last month, Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa told a parliamentary meeting that the new boats were necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the island’s asymmetric warfare capability.

Navy chief of staff Vice-Admiral Lee Chung-hsiao also told legislators the combat tactics of the new boats differed from the Kuang Hua fleet and they would be deployed in different operational areas.

The self-ruled island has been under increasing pressure from Beijing since the 2016 election of Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning DPP, as president.

Official exchanges between Taiwan and the mainland have been suspended since Tsai refused to accept the one-China principle, seen by Beijing as the political foundation for warmer ties.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.