The Taiwanese Navy (ROC – Republic of China Navy) announced in 2016 an ambitious plan to build ships and procure weapons and equipment, including a missile frigate. According to a June 2017 report by UPMEDIA, the ROC Navy communicated the requirements to shipbuilders and said the frigate would have a displacement of 4,500 tonnes.
However, several Taiwanese media are reporting that the frigate project is not going smoothly because NCSIST (National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology – a Taiwanese state-owned corporation) has not been able to develop a compact AESA radar system for the ship, and there have also been media reports that the ROC Navy has been considering the purchase of foreign combat systems to equip the ship since 2017.
In December 2021, UDN reported that the ROC Navy was considering building eight-light frigates with a displacement of 2,000 to 2,500 tons by 2027 to respond to the Chinese threat. Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) denied this, and the minister’s wording indicated that the idea of building light frigates is probably not even being discussed within the ministry.
However, Navy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Chiang Cheng-kuo (蔣正國) told legislators that the frigate project may be postponed, and Budget Center of the Legislative Yuan (parliament) said that the Navy had returned more than 90 percent of the budget funds secured for the frigate project to the treasury in 2019 and 2020 because it had not been implemented.
In April 2022, LTN (Liberty Times Net) quoted several legislators and defense experts calling on the Taiwan Navy and NCSIST to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Dr. Hsiao-Huang Shu (舒孝煌), a research fellow at the Defense Ministry’s think tank, told LTN that large surface combatants with stronger sustainability and air surveillance capabilities are still necessary for monitoring the actions of Chinese ships, respond to Chinese gray zone conflict methods, secure sea lines of communication, dominate the sea, and exercise air superiority in the Bashi Channel and offshore eastern Taiwan.
Taiwanese Navy’s large surface combatants
Currently, the ROC Navy has a surface fleet composed of 4 Kee Lung-class destroyers (formerly American Kidd-class), 10 Cheng Kung-class frigates (8 licensed ships based on the American Oliver Hazard Perry-class, 2 ships acquired from the United States), 6 Kang Ding-class frigates (French-built La Fayette-class), and 6 Chi Yang-class frigates (formerly American Knox-class). Most of the ships were commissioned between the 1990s and the early 2000s.
Fifteen of Taiwan’s 26 large surface combatants have been in service for more than 25 years, and the 6 Chi Yang-class ships are between 47 and 51 years old. The ships are equipped with a steam turbine, which is considered obsolete, and have very limited air defense capability.