Senior naval officials hinted earlier this week that the new-generation Tuo Jiang-class corvette (沱江艦) could be dispatched to beef up security measures around the disputed Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) in the South China Sea if the need arises.
Responding to enquiries from legislators, Navy Chief of Staff Hsiao Wei-min (蕭維民) said the recently commissioned Tuo Jiang stealth missile corvette would able to reach Taiwan’s military outpost on Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) within one day.
Taiping, spanning 46 hectares, is the largest island in the Spratlys, and has permanent troops from Coast Guard Administration units stationed there.
The island lies about 1,600km away from Greater Kaohsiung and features military facilities, artillery and other weapons, along with a radar station, air landing strip and electricity power generators on the island.
Hsiao, along with Minister of National Defense Yen Ming (嚴明) replied to legislative committee enquiries by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯), and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) and Lin fu-fang (林郁方) earlier this week.
Chiang said Vietnam has deployed new shoulder-fired missiles and advanced weapons on a nearby islet to Taiping Island.
“We must flex our firepower muscle there to deter such threats. Therefore, I request the military to station one or two Tuo Jiang corvettes at the Taiping base on a long-term basis,” Chiang said.
Lin called on the navy to bolster the corvette’s firepower by outfitting up to five surface-to-surface Hsiung Feng 2E missiles to its arsenal, which is a tactical, land-attacking cruise missile system.
“Outfitting the Tuo Jiang corvette with Hsiung Feng 2E missiles, to go with its existing 16 anti-ship missiles would upgrade its attacking power, and make it an effective deterrent to enemy forces,” Lin said.
Yen said the military currently has no plan to deploy the Tuo Jiang corvette to the nation’s islands in the South China Sea.
He said that official policy now is geared toward humanitarian relief and international assistance, so that Taiwan can be recognized as a “peacemaker” in the South China Sea, and not a “troublemaker” in the region.
However, Yen implied preparations were being made for possible conflicts, as he confirmed the current construction of a new pier and expanded airstrip on Taiping Island would enable the troops stationed there to adapt to military contingencies.
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