Surface Forces: The 'Ayatollah' Class Goes East.


December 12, 2005: On the 10th of December, Taiwan took delivery of two of the four Kidd-Class destroyers, renamed Keelung and Suao, that it purchased from the US in 2003. Displacing 9700 tons and with a length of 563 feet (171.6 metres), these potent destroyers are armed with 2 Mk26 launchers for Standard SM2 MR surface to air missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, ASROC and Mk46 anti-submarine weapons, 2 5inch naval guns and 2 20mm Phalanx close-in weapons systems. They can also carry up to two naval helicopters.

The Kidd class destroyers have already had a very interesting history. Originally ordered by the Shah of Iran in the late 1970s, these ships were in the midst of construction when the Iranian Revolution came about, which lead to the new Islamic Republic canceling the order. The USN then acquired these ships, leading to their nickname 'the Ayatollah Class'. These destroyers are actually cruisers, in terms of size and weapons and equipment carried.

Like the following Ticonderoga Class AEGIS cruisers, the Kidds were built on a modified Spruance Class destroyer hulls, and the class was originally designed for the littoral conditions of the Persian Gulf. While the Kidds lack the VLS missile systems of most recently modified Spruance class ships, they were outfitted with the anti-air capabilities of the Virginia Class nuclear cruisers, including Standard SM2 MR SAMs fired from two dual launchers, making them almost as capable anti-air combatants as the latter Aegis cruisers and destroyers.

In fact, with their OY-88 Fire Control Illuminators, the Kidd class are actually considered to be superior than Aegis ships in littoral conditions, as their illuminators are able to more accurately 'paint' airborne targets against the surface or ground clutter of in-shore conditions (like a mountain or hill in the background). This is a significant capability in the crowded and cluttered waters of the Taiwan Straits. In 1982 during the Falklands War, one of the reasons why the Type 42 destroyer HMS Conventry was sunk by conventional bombs was because it's fire control radars were not able to lock onto low flying Argentinean A-4 Skyhawks that were using terrain-masking to make their approach.

The Kidds were regarded as one of the most potent multi-role ships in the U.S. Navy, and this meant that they received up-to-date electronics and weapons systems up until their early retirement in 1998, including the New Threat Update (NTU) air warfare system upgrade, and the Navy Tactical Data System (NTDS), which enabled them to share data and information with other naval platforms like aircraft and other warships.

While it's not known what refits they received to prepare them for ROCN service, their early retirement from the USN means that these ships still have roughly 20 years of useful service life left. They will also be the most capable surface combatant in the ROCN - armed with Standard SM2 MR missiles with a range of at least 74 kilometres, they have double the anti-air missile reach of the Standard SM1 equipped Perry Class frigates, until now the ROCN's premier warship class. With ASROC and Mk 46 torpedo capabilities, plus the ability to deploy ASW helicopters, they bring with them a potent ASW capability.

All in all, Taiwan has scored a good, cost effective deal by purchasing the Kidds, as they are getting powerful warships that are ideally suited for duty in the Taiwan Straits, and which will expand the ROCN's capabilities and potency and make them a match against the latest warships of the PLAN. -- Shawn Chung


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