A US military expert is warning that China’s new class of stealth missile frigates could pose a direct threat to Taiwan.
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow in Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, says the new vessels increase Beijing’s options for imposing a naval blockade.
A report by The Associated Press (AP) that received wide coverage in the US on Tuesday said China had launched the first ship in a new class of stealth missile frigates “amid ongoing tensions with neighboring countries over Beijing’s maritime claims.”
Quoting Chinese “state media,” the report said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy was building a total of 20 Type 056 frigates to replace older models and bolster its ability to conduct patrols and escort ships and submarines in the South China and East China seas.
Xinhua news agency reported that the first vessel in the class was formally delivered to the Chinese navy in Shanghai on Monday.
Some indication of just how important the new frigates’ mission was considered to be could be gathered from the fact that PLA Navy Commander Wu Shengli (吳勝利) attended the ceremony.
The Type 056 vessels have a 1,440 tonnes displacement — much smaller than a US frigate — and are considered by some in the Pentagon to be corvettes.
They have a stealth design making them difficult for radar to pick up, have helicopters on board and are armed with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.
Asked by the Taipei Times to comment on the development, Fisher said: “China is producing stealthy Type 056 ... corvettes at a near-war footing.”
“They are now being built in four shipyards and Chinese sources indicate that 20 are funded for construction right now, but eventually the PLA Navy could build 40 or 50 of these warships,” he added.
Fisher said the Type 056 was similar to the Dutch SIGMA class vessels used by Indonesia, but that they were very well-armed for their size.
“For Taiwan, the prospect of a large number of Type 056 corvettes, operating with an expected 20 to 30 new Type 054A/B stealthy frigates and about 80 smaller Type 022 Houbei stealthy class fast attack craft, increases the PLA Navy’s options to try to impose a naval blockade on Taiwan,” Fisher said.