Upgrade work to focus on new air defense system with the installation of VLS as well as improved combat and electronic warfare systems.
Tso-Juei Hsu story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur.
According to the report by Up Media, the upgrade program will take 8 years.
Sea Chapparal: An obsolete SAM system
In the 1990s, Taiwan procured from France 6 new frigates based on the La Fayette design. However it was unable to buy weapon systems because of Chinese intervention. The ROC Navy had to equip the ships with U.S. made and Taiwanese made weapon systems, including RIM-72C Sea Chaparral surface-to-air (SAM) system.
Sea Chaparral SAM system has been considered inadequate for defense against modern anti-ship missiles and aircrafts. The ROC Navy has been criticized for decades for equipping its frigates with a SAM system which has an extremely short range (The surface launched Sidewinder missile has a practical range of only 3 to 4 Km and a maximum range of 6 Km).
The whole frigate deal is engulfed in mystery along with a commission and kickback scandal, with both Taiwanese and French involved. Some were probably murdered, including a Taiwanese navy captain in charge of investigating the scandal.
Kang Ding-class upgrade program
Taiwanese media quoted an anonymous military official, saying that upgrade program of the La Fayette type frigates was planned as early as 2016 because of the threat posed by the enemy’s latest weapon systems. ROC Navy negotiated with Thales Group (previously known as Thomson-CSF before being privatized and rebranded), and plans to install the indigenous Hsunlien Project (迅聯專案) systems. The project includes installing Mk 41 vertical launch systems (VLS) to the ships, replacing the old Sea Chaparral SAM systems.
However, installing Mk 41 vertical launch systems will change the structure of the ship. According to the procurement contract, approval from the French side is required to modify the frigates structure. The ROC Navy want Hsunlien Project shipborne air defense missile system integrated with a new combat systems, upgrade to the radar system and electronic warfare system. Thales offered a more than 130 million Euro per ship quotation.
Because the development of Hsunlien Project had just begun at that time, ROC Navy was in no rush to pick a solution. Therefore it continued negotiating with Thales Group while also requesting quotation for other systems such as monitoring system and communication systems from L3Harris and other American and British companies.
For the record, the ROC Navy is also upgrading the decoy launching systems aboard the Kang Ding-class following a contract awarded in April 2020.
Thales wins upgrade contract
According to the anonymous source, after the request for quotation from American, British companies, the ROC navy found that Thales offered the lowest price for the upgrade program.
After reporting to the Ministry of National Defense (MND) for approval, the ROC Navy started the related planning works. Thales Group is also seeking an export license from the French government for changing the structure of the ships (to fit Mk 41) and upgrading the software of the combat systems.
Upgrade to start from 2022
Because Taiwanese government gave priority for purchasing 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems from the U.S. and the development of Hsunlien Project’s Hai Kung III missile (Sea Bow III, shipborne variant of Tien Kung III /Sky Bow III SAM) was postponed for one year, the upgrade program for the Kang Ding-class frigates will start from 2022.
Reverse engineered Mk 41 VLS ?
According to Taiwanese media, NCSIST bought Mk 41 VLS from Lockheed Martin and did some reverse engineering to develop its own VLS technology for shooting shipborne variants of Taiwan’s indigenous surface-to-air missiles. But Lockheed Martin said that if NCSIST don’t pay the licensing revenue, no more parts and technology transfer will be provided. An anonymous source told Taiwanese media that NCSIST will fasten the test schedule of shipborne variant of Sky Sword II (Tien Chien II) missile, and negotiating with Lockheed Martin about licensing revenue, in order to complete all subsystems needed for Hsunlien Project before 2022.
About ROC Navy’s Kang Ding-class Frigates
All six frigates were built in France by DCN (now Naval Group) following a US$1.75 billion contract signed in the 1990ies between Taiwan and Thomson-CSF (Thales), acting as prime contractor. The design is based on the La Fayette-class of the French Navy.
The six ships of the class, commissioned with the ROC Navy between May 1996 and March 1998, are named after provincial capitals in mainland China under ROC’s pre-1949 political division:
Kang Ding (康定, PFG-1202)
Xi Ning (西寧, PFG-1203)
Kun Ming (昆明, PFG-1205)
Di Hua (迪化, PFG-1206)
Wu Chang (武昌, PFG-1207)
Chen De (承德, PFG-1208)
According to the ROC Navy’s website: The main role of the Kang Ding-class is to defend the Taiwan Strait and enforce the sea borders. It can perform anti air warfare (AAW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), escort, anti-blockade, and joint surface interception operations. The main degisn feature of the ship is its stealth design. The surface of the entire ship does not have a particularly protruding structure. Most of the deck equipment have been hidden in the ship, and its anti-ship missile launcher is also placed in the ship. The surface of the external area is also inclined at an angle of plus or minus 10 degrees to avoid complex shapes or rhomboid structures, which can disperse the radar wave and achieve the concealment effect.
◆ Full displacement: 3680 tons
◆ Maximum speed: 25 knots
◆ Length: 125 meters
◆ Width: 15.4 meters
◆ Draught: 5.5 meters