The Ministry of National Defense yesterday refused to comment on a report in the Chinese Communist Party-run Guangming Daily saying that the Kuang Hua VI (KH-6) fast attack missile boats that have been in service in the Taiwanese navy since 2010 were plagued by deficiencies and were a “fantasy.”
Taiwan commissioned its first squadron of 11 KH-6 radar-evading fast-attack craft, produced by China Shipbuilding Corp, in May 2010. Since then, 20 more of the 170-tonne boats have entered service, the most recent 10 on Dec. 2 last year at Tsuoying Naval Base in Greater Kaohsiung.
The 31 boats comprise the navy’s three squadrons, which have been dubbed Hai Chiao (Sea Sharks).
Photo: Chang Chung-i, Taipei Times
Each boat, which costs about US$12.3 million, comes equipped with four Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missiles with a range of 150km, as well as a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, a 7.62mm machine gun and decoy systems.
The KH-6s, which have gradually been replacing the Navy’s Israeli-made Hai Ou (Sea Gull)-class missile patrol boats, are integral to the defense of Taiwan’s waters. Given the narrowness of the Taiwan Strait, the boats would be able to attack targets at naval bases along China’s coast.
Some naval experts, including James Holmes of the US Naval War College, have hailed the capabilities of fast-attack craft as a potentially efficient asymmetrical counter to the growing Chinese military.
The Hsiung Feng III, currently under development by the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, is also a main component of Taiwan’s emerging sea defenses.
However, the Guangming Daily on Tuesday claimed that the program was beset with problems and called the Sea Sharks a “fantasy.” At issue, the paper said, was the fact that the guns on the KH-6 needed to be operated manually, which undermined the craft’s “stealth” capability.
The article also said the craft was ill-suited for the rough weather conditions in the Taiwan Strait, pointing to an incident involving a prototype that lost power and became stranded on an outer seawall during Typhoon Jangmi in September 2008.
In all, the paper said, those deficiencies imposed “several restrictions” on the boats’ use.
Contacted by the Taipei Times yesterday, Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Colonel David Lo (羅紹和) said the ministry would not comment on Chinese media reports on Taiwan’s weapons systems.
Asked for comment, Holmes said the navy probably had corrected any deficiencies that lend themselves to easy fixes, such as clutter on the main deck.
“The point about handling well in heavy weather or at sea, however, is not something so easily corrected,” he said via e-mail. “The vessel is top-heavy because of its tall superstructure, which raises its ‘center of buoyancy’ and makes it bob around like a cork in high seas. That compromises its ability to go to sea and fight in all weather.”
“Improving the KH-6’s seakeeping ability would require a major redesign to lower weight within the vessel. That’s not something so easily solved,” Holmes said.
“Calling the craft a ‘fantasy’ overstates things in my view, so our Chinese friends could be indulging in some triumphalism. But I certainly see the KH-6 as only a transitional platform until something better is in the water,” he added.
Wendell Minnick, the Taipei-based Asia bureau chief for Defense News, said the deficiencies mentioned in the article were old ones and that he suspected the navy had ironed most of them out by now.
“The KH-6 missile patrol boat program has experienced developmental problems. One main problem is balancing the weight of larger missiles across the frame,” Minnick told the Taipei Times yesterday. “This has caused some problems in the past, but they appear to be seaworthy at present.”
“For the most part, Taiwan does produce, at the end of the day, impressive weapon systems and in many ways the Taiwanese are some of the best weapons producers in the world,” he said.
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