The Navy plans to spend NT$35.9 billion (US$1.2 billion) to procure six domestically built minehunting ships over a 12-year period to strengthen the nation’s ability to counter a blockade by China, the draft Ministry of National Defense budget for next year shows.
The program’s budget has yet to obtain final legislative approval, said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), who sits on the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
Lin said the addition of the minehunters would “significantly enhance” the Navy’s ability to counter a naval blockade, which experts regard as a possible strategy by China to exert pressure on Taipei short of declaring war, or as part of the opening rounds in a military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait.
Although information on the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) mine warfare capabilities remains sketchy, naval analysts, including James Bussert of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia, believe each of the three PLAN fleets comprises one squadron of mine layers. The US Navy estimates the PLAN uses as many as 30 types of mines (including submarine-launched) and has an inventory of between 50,000 and 100,000.
According to the Bureau of Energy, Taiwan has strategic oil reserves of approximately 1.45 million kiloliters of crude, which would last the nation for about 30 days. Besides disrupting shipments of crude and natural gas, which could bring Taiwan to a standstill, the mining of Taiwanese harbors and waterways would severely undermine the confidence of global cargo fleets and thereby cause serious damage to Taiwan’s economy.
At present, the Navy’s coastal mine-sweeping operations rely on two refurbished and upgraded Northrop Grumman-built Osprey-class mine-hunters — the former USS Oriole and USS Falcon — it bought from the US for US$105 million and received last month, as well as four Yungfeng-class vessels procured from Germany between 1990 and 1991 and four Yungyang (aggressive)-class ships acquired from the US in 1994.
Additional reporting by AFP
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