Taiwan has begun mass production of its home-grown Tuo Jiang-class missile corvettes and high-speed minelayers as it seeks to shore up its naval forces amid rising hostility from Beijing.
Dubbed the "aircraft carrier killer", the small but powerful corvette, which has a displacement of 680 tonnes and a top speed of 45 knots, is a state-of-the-art stealth warship built by Lung Teh Shipbuilding.
A total of three corvettes will be built under the NT$31.6 billion (US$1 billion) Hsun Hai project, the self-ruled island's navy said.
The warship is equipped with one of the world's most technologically advanced computer systems and built partly with high-entropy metal alloys for extra strength and durability, it said. Its stealth technology and low radar cross section makes the ship virtually invisible at sea and even more obscure when operating close to the coastline.
Armed with eight subsonic Hsiung Feng II and eight supersonic Hisung Feng III anti-ship missile launchers, the corvettes are intended to take over many of the missions currently undertaken by larger, less manoeuvrable and more expensive frigates and destroyers, the navy said.
In the event of an actual armed conflict with Beijing, the warships would also boost Taiwan's ability to counter a much larger and better equipped rival, a concept known as asymmetric warfare.
In a ceremony on Friday at Lung Teh's shipyard in Suao, Yilan county, to mark the start of mass production, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the move was made possible after the navy succeeded in overcoming a number of design and technological issues regarding the warship, an earlier version of which she boarded soon after becoming the island's leader in 2016.
Together with the construction of the high-speed minelayers, also by Lung Teh, and a home-grown submarine at a separate shipyard in Kaohsiung, Tsai said Taiwan was entering a "new era" of naval strength that would give it the ability to thwart any attempts by the People's Liberation Army to invade its territory.
"This proves we are able to build our own warships and launch a new era of the naval force," she said.
Construction of the Tuo Jiang-class corvettes was under way, with the first expected to be ready for delivery to the navy in 2021 and the last by 2025, Tsai said.
The first batch of four minelayers would also be ready by 2021, she said.
Taiwan has sought to counter the rising threat from mainland China by developing more of its own military hardware in recent years. Beijing's military budget for 2019 is 1.2 trillion yuan, or about 16 times as much as Taiwan's.
Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, and suspended all official exchanges with it after Tsai, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president and refused to accept the one-China principle.
Over the past three years Tsai has prioritised Taiwan's military expansion, ordering the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology " the island's top weapon research and development agency " to speed up production of weapons like the surface-to-air Skybow-III and supersonic anti-ship Hsiung Feng-III missiles.
Taiwan is also expected next year to begin mass production of its CM-34 Clouded Leopard eight-wheeled armoured vehicles and has set a target to manufacture 284 of them by 2023.
Four prototypes of the vehicles, which passed pre-production tests in October, are expected to take part in the island's annual Han Kuang war games next week.
Chieh Chung, a national security research fellow at the National Policy Foundation in Taipei, said that because of the huge discrepancies in their military budgets Taiwan could not engage in an arms race with the mainland so had to be more innovative.
"Taiwan has to develop an asymmetric defence strategy," he said. "Take the Tou Jiang corvettes, for example. Because of their high speed, stealth function, small size and powerful weaponry, they can be deployed anywhere near Taiwan's coast and called into action very quickly to fend off enemy vessels," he said.
"The same applies to the high-speed minelayers, which can drop mines very quickly and make it very hard for enemy ships to attack the coast," he said.
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