The nation’s fleet of 12 Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft provides Taiwan with an effective deterrent against the growing size and threat of the submarine forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the military said yesterday.
The P-3C aircraft on Friday formally replaced the aging Grumman S-2 Tracker fleet as the nation’s mainstay force.
The PLAN has nine nuclear-powered submarines, only five of which are actual attack submarines, and 54 diesel-electric submarines, this year’s US Department of Defense report on the Chinese military said.
The report estimated that the PLAN submarine force is likely to increase to between 69 and 78 boats by 2020.
The S-2 Trackers have been in service for more than four decades and their anti-submarine warfare (ASW) duties are officially being transferred to the P-3C planes, the military said.
Aerial ASW efforts are to be complemented by Republic of China Navy-operated Sikorsky S-70C anti-submarine warfare helicopters, as well as the aging Hughes MD-500 helicopters, a source said.
The military has been searching for successors to the MD500 helicopters, which have also seen 40 years of service, but has yet to decide on a candidate, the source said.
Fixed-wing aircraft can stay in the air longer than helicopters, can conduct searches further out to sea, fly at greater speeds and have a larger ordinance capacity, the source said.
By contrast, helicopters have greater mobility and faster reaction times, and are far more flexible regarding where they can land or take off from, they said.
The P-3C aircraft will form an effective deterrence to the rapidly growing Chinese submarine fleet, the source said.
In other news, the military hopes to close the gap between the navy and the PLAN with its indigenous shipbuilding program, the military said.
The acquisition of more diesel-electric submarines and a gradual strengthening of the navy’s surface and aerial anti-submarine capabilities are also under way, the military said.
Aside from the Keelung-class destroyers — the navy’s largest ships by tonnage — the Chiyang-class frigates are designated to conduct surface ASW patrols, a source said.
The Mingchuan-class frigates transferred to the navy this year would also have basic ASW capabilities, the source said.
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