TAIPEI — The Taiwan Navy received the first prototype of the stealthy Tuo Jiang-class catamaran corvettes, the PGG 618, in a ceremony Dec. 23 at Suao Port, on Taiwan's east coast.

The new 500-ton vessel completed a year of testing, with plans to build 11 follow-on ships after the prototype's evaluation is completed, said Navy sources at the ceremony. The first ship will be based with the 131 Fleet in Keelung on Taiwan's northern coast. The legislature has not allocated the budget yet, a Navy official said.

A media tour of the ship revealed it was equipped with eight "carrier-killer" 130-kilometer range Hsiung Feng-3 (Brave Wind) ramjet-powered anti-ship missiles and eight 160-kilometer range Hsiung Feng-2 anti-ship missiles. There were 12 chaff dispensers for both infrared and radio frequency-guided anti-ship missiles (six bow/six stern), one Mark 15 Phalanx close-in weapon system near the stern, four mounts for 12.7mm machine guns, one Otoberda 76mm bow gun, and six Mark 32 torpedoes located inside the stern (three port/three starboard).

The stern deck was too small for a helicopter, but a Navy source said it might be used for unmanned aerial vehicles. The ship uses an extensive closed-circuit television system to lower crew numbers to 44. The twin-hulled vessel can handle a sea state of seven (20-30 foot waves). The ship has a top speed of 34 knots and a range of 2,000 nautical miles.

The shipbuilder, Lung Teh Shipbuilding, designed and built the ship, with some assistance from the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST). Though details of the water jet engines were not made available, control panels inside the bridge indicate Sweden-based Marine Jet Power was an active participant in providing propulsion technology for the vessel.

The media tour of the ship confirmed that other foreign companies participated as suppliers; including Florida-based Hose-McCann Communications, Singapore-based Pan Delta Controls, Korea-based Master Clock Systems, Garmin International, Germany-based MTU Marine, Singapore-based Pan Delta Controls, and UK-based Scott Safety.

The ship was built with Vietnamese construction workers sent to Taiwan for the build program. "Vietnamese were hired for the hard labor in the construction process, but were not allowed access to sensitive or classified systems or compartments," a Taiwan defense official said.

Vietnamese construction workers attended the ceremony in Suao and were identified by Defense News when they began speaking Vietnamese.

One argument among lawmakers and defense officials for a domestic ship program, which will include four-to-eight submarines, was the promise of new jobs for Taiwan's citizens. However, sources at the commissioning said the Vietnamese workers were "cheap labor" and that Taiwanese would not take these types of difficult jobs.

The new class was named in honor of the PC 1247 Tuo Jiang patrol vessel that fought in the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis and was damaged during the 44-day battle near Kinmen Island, said Stanly Yang, an Ministry of National Defense media liaison officer.

The ship is reminiscent in capability of China's 250-ton Houbei-class stealthy guided-missile fast-attack catamaran. China's Navy has 68 Houbei-class vessels deployed and each can carry eight anti-ship cruise missiles. The Houbei has also been compared to Taiwan's stealthy traditional-keel 170-ton Kuang Hua-6 guided-missile patrol boat, capable of carrying four Hsiung Feng-2 anti-ship missiles. Taiwan has 31 of these fast-attack boats on duty.

In November, a Taiwan military source said CSIST is working on an improved Hsiung Feng-2, extending the range from 160 to 250 kilometers. "It is now in the launch testing stage," he said.

Email: wminnick@defensenews.com.

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