Taiwan is expected to commission its first 4,000-tonne coastguard offshore patrol vessel early next year to strengthen the island’s presence in the disputed South China Sea, which has become a flashpoint amid growing confrontation in the region between mainland China and the United States.
The island will also next year start production of an advanced training plane after completing test flights later this month, as it tries to improve air force pilot training in the face of growing hostility from mainland China, officials and experts said on Monday.
The domestically developed air and sea craft could be quickly turned into defence systems during wartime to help safeguard the island, the experts said.
Separately, Taiwan will seek to buy land-based AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the US to boost its coastal defence, according to Deputy Defence Minister Chang Che-ping.
The military would soon make a formal request to Washington and hope to acquire the missiles by 2023, Chang told the Taiwanese legislature last week, without specifying the number of the missiles the island wanted to buy.
Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that must be returned to the mainland fold, by force if necessary. It has staged a series of war games around Taiwan in addition to poaching seven of the island’s allies and suspending cross-strait official exchanges since Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.
Tsai, who won a second four-year term in a landslide victory in January’s presidential election, vowed in her inauguration on May 20 to bolster the island’s defence industry’s ability to build its own weapons and increase its defence capability in the face of a growing military threat from Beijing.
On Tuesday, she is expected to launch the National Coastguard Administration’s CG-160 4,000-tonnage-class patrol vessel in a ceremony at the shipbuilder CSBC in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, CSBC and coastguard officials have said.
“After the ship is launched, we will conduct various kinds of tests of the vessel’s facilities and equipment before delivering it over to the National Coastguard Administration by the end of this year,” Wei Cheng-tzu, executive vice-president of CBSC, said.
Representing the biggest tonnage so far for Taiwan’s coastguard, the vessel is one of the four such ships being built by CBSC at a cost of NT$10.44 billion (US$347 million). The other three will be delivered by 2025, according to Wei.
CBSC said that the vessel’s hull was designed with weapon fittings, including 2.75-inch rockets capable of attacking a target within a range of 10km (six miles), developed by the Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology – the island’s top weapon developer.
The ship will also be fitted with 20mm-caliber heavy machine guns, gun turrets and other weapons, in addition to medical facilities that can be used as a field hospital in wartime and for humanitarian rescue at other times, the officials said.
According to the coastguard, the heavy patrol ship will also be equipped with a helipad that can accommodate the Black Hawk helicopters operated by the National Airborne Service Corps of Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior, as well as the Sikorsky helicopters operated by its navy.
The coastguard is expected to put it into service next year, possibly before April, CBSC said.
Meanwhile, the builder of the island’s first advance jet trainer (AJT) – named Yung Yin, or Brave Eagle – will conduct test flights in late June in preparation for its first batch of production in November next year, officials have said.
In a shareholders’ meeting on Friday, Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation chairman Hu Kai-hung said his company was scheduled to roll out production of the first batch of AJTs in November next year before mass production in March 2023.
“According to the schedule, we are to deliver 66 Yung Yins to the air force by June 2026,” Hu said.
The defence ministry said on Monday that production in the NT$250 billion AJT project would begin next year.
The AJT has already passed the required preflight dynamic and static tests, according to Taiwan’s air force.
A prototype of Yung Yin was unveiled last September, with the goal of replacing the military’s decades-old AT-3 trainer aircraft and F-5E/F lead-in fighter trainers.
Su Tzu-yun, a research fellow at the military-affiliated Institute for National Defence and Security Research, said the new jet trainers would be capable of providing support for the navy and air force in cross-strait conflicts.
“Once it is loaded with missiles and bombs, Yung Yin – which in normal times trains air force pilots – can be used in a war,” he said.
A military officer who declined to be named said the coastguard’s heavy patrol vessels, too, were designed to be used in combat during wartime.
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