Surface Forces: Many Missile Boats in the Taiwan Straits

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October 17, 2005: Taiwan is building up to 29 additional guided-missile patrol boats. These are Kuang Hua VI class boats, and are part of Taiwan's modernization program. These boats are to replace 47 older Hai Ou-class ("Seagull") boats. The pursuit of modern small combatants by Taiwan is no real surprise. When a strait of water separates two enemies, larger vessels like destroyers and even frigates are at a disadvantage, but small craft like corvettes and missile boats are almost at home in limited waters where the action will be close. This was the case in the English Channel during World War II, and the same will be true of any combat in the Formosa Straits.

The Kuang Hua VI is 180 tons, has a top speed of 66 kilometers per hour and is equipped with four Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missiles and two 20-millimeter cannon. This ship is designed for reduced radar and infrared signatures, which enable it to carry out its role as a small, cheap, and potent ship-killer. The Hsiung Feng II has a range of 170 kilometers and has a 419-pound warhead. Taiwan will be spending $293 million for these vessels. The total of 120 anti-ship missiles will be a potent force against most of the older Luda-class destroyers and Jianghu-class frigates in the Chinese navy.

Taiwan also has a dozen corvettes, the Jing Chiang-class. These vessels displace 500 tons, and are being re-equipped to carry four Hsiung Feng II missiles (replacing the shorter-range Hsiung Feng I) to go along with a 40-millimeter gun and a twenty-millimeter gun.

This is not to say that the Chinese navy does not have modern missile boats of its own. There are two such classes in Chinese service. The Houxin-class carries four C-801 missiles, two twin 37-millimeter cannon, and two twin 14.5-millimeter machine guns. China is planning to build 30 of these. China also is building thirty Houjian-class (or Houjan) boats with four C-801 missiles, two twin 30-millimeter cannon, and a twin 37-mm cannon.

Three other classes of missile boat could be in service at some point in the near-future. China has been developing a catamaran carrying guided missiles as well. This missile boat is apparently armed with a copy of the Russian AK-630 30-millimeter Gatling gun and C-802 missiles. Rumors also abound of China purchasing the Molinya-class fast patrol boat (armed with four SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missiles) from Russia, while a hydrofoil-equipped missile boat with four C-801 anti-ship missiles is also under development.

Missile boats will play a big role in any confrontation between China and Taiwan. Any war between them will be a major naval-air confrontation will have a number of similarities to the naval warfare between England and Germany in World War II. Like Germany, China will be trying to cut off an island nation for purposes of starving it into submission or invasion. Taiwan will be doing everything it can to avoid it. - Harold C. Hutchison (hchutc@ix.netcom.com)

 


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