Thu, Jan 23, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Weather scales back exercise

READINESS The ROC Navy demonstrated, in a live-fire drill, the 76mm gun attached to one of its most advanced warships -- a Lafayette-class frigate

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH CNA

A Lafayette frigate and an S-70C helicopter engage in an anti-submarine exercise in the seas off Tsoying naval base yesterday.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

The navy held a live-fire exercise off the coast of Kaohsiung yesterday at a location close to where one of the Chinese ballistic missiles landed in 1996, a provocation which sparked the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis.

The drill, organized specifically for the press, was conducted by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and featured two Lafayette-class frigates, which the ROC Navy purchased from France.

It originally was to include a bombardment of mock surface targets by two sorties of F-16 fighter planes, but the maneuver was cancelled at the last moment because of bad weather.

One remaining part of the exercise -- firing of live ammunition from the Lafayette-class frigate Tihua's 76mm gun -- went ahead as planned.

The live-fire drill took place about 55km west of Kaohsiung's Tsoying naval harbor, close to one of the locations where China's ballistic missiles landed in 1996.

Most of the top brass charged with defending southern Taiwan were present for the occasion.

The MND said that it organized the exercise to demonstrate military readiness before the Lunar New Year. Similar campaigns are held every year at this time and they are meant to assure Taiwanese that the country is safe from harm.

The navy bought a total of six Lafayette-class frigates from France in the last decade. The frigates are the most advanced warship in the ROC Navy, which also includes Chengkung-class and Knox-class frigates.

The Lafayettes travel at a relatively fast speed and feature a streamlined design and state-of-the-art equipment, but they have a relatively weak arsenal.

The ship's weakest point is its air-defense weaponry, which is comprised mostly of short-range missiles.

The navy is seeking to upgrade the air-defense capability of its Lafayettes, with Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) eagerly bidding for the deal.

CSIST has developed a vertical launch system (VLS) for air defense missiles that makes use of a sea-to-air version of the Tien Chien-II anti-aircraft missile, sources said.

A CSIST proposal is asking the navy to allow the institute to use one of the six Lafayette-class frigates as the test-platform for the VLS, but the navy has been hesitant to let the costly frigates be used to test a system that hasn't proven its effectiveness.

The navy's hesitation is a likely indication that it is ready to refuse the air defense package and some military buffs are saying that it may instead adapt the US-made Standard SM-II air defense missile to the VLS, not the Tien Chien-II missiles.

The Standard SM-II system generated some controversy in October when PFP Lawmaker and ex-navy chief Nelson Ku (顧崇廉) criticized plans to buy the missile at three times its market value.

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