May 25, 2012: Taiwan has paid a local shipyard $30.1 million to design and build the first of twelve 500 ton stealthy twin-hulled missile boats (to be designated corvettes). Each will carry up to 16 anti-ship missiles (Hsiung Feng 2 and Hsiung Feng 3), plus a large array of electronics, including electronic countermeasures. The stealth and defensive electronics are meant to keep these ships afloat long enough to use most of their missiles against their more numerous Chinese counterparts.
It was only last year that Taiwan admitted that their warships were already equipped with the new Hsiung Feng 3 anti-ship missile. This weapon was in development for over a decade, and it was rumored that production began four years ago. Some 300 of these missiles are believed to be in service (aboard ships or in land based launchers).
The 6.1 meter (19 foot) long Hsiung-feng 3 weighs 1.5 tons (with a 181 kg/400 pound warhead) and has a top speed of 2300 kilometers an hour. Max range is 300 kilometers. It uses inertial and GPS guidance to get to the general vicinity of the target, then several other sensors to lock on to a specific ship and hit it.
Taiwan tends to develop its new weapons quietly and then suddenly reveal them. The Hsiung Feng 3, for example, suddenly began showing up in military parades, with little official comment, several years ago. One reason for keeping quiet about new weapons is that it keeps the press away from embarrassing development problems. There were some additional difficulties with the Hsiung-feng 3, after it went into production. The worst of these had to do with the very high speeds and damage that this caused to some components. It's also believed that the max range was reduced to only 150 kilometers for a period of time because of teething problems. The Hsiung-feng 3 is being installed on destroyers and frigates and now the new 500 ton stealth corvettes. For these ships the designers are being asked to get as many of the large (for a 500 ton ship) Hsiung-feng 3s on it as possible (up to eight). In addition there will be eight of the smaller Hsiung-feng 2.
These new corvettes are the continuation of a trend in the Taiwanese Navy, which sees small ships carrying lots of anti-ship missiles as the key to success against the Chinese navy. It was only two years ago that the first of 31 KH-6 guided missile patrol boats entered service. These 34.2 meter (106 foot) long, seven meter (22 foot) wide, 170 ton ships have a crew of 19. They were armed with four Hsiung Feng-2 anti-ship missiles (subsonic speed, range of 160 kilometers, half the weight of the Hsiung Feng-3), a 20mm autocannon, two 7.62mm machine-guns, and two decoy (for incoming missiles) launchers. Top speed is 55 kilometers an hour. At cruising speed of 22 kilometers an hour, the ships can stay at sea for about two days at a time. All 31 KH-6s are expected to enter service by the end of 2012. The KH-6s replace thirty older and smaller (57 ton) Hai Ou class boats. These patrol boats guard the coast, and especially the 180 kilometers wide Taiwan Straits that separate China and Taiwan.