CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Taiwan’s largest private shipbuilder has started building an anti-submarine warfare frigate expected to relieve stress on the fleet.

The construction comes as China continues growing its naval force, which includes 48 diesel-electric and 12 nuclear-powered submarines, according to a Pentagon report. The submarine force is expected to grow to 65 boats by 2025 and 80 by 2035, the report noted. China considers Taiwan a rogue province and has threatened to take it back by force.

In total, Taiwan plans to acquire a dozen light frigates — six for anti-submarine warfare and six for anti-air warfare — to replace already-decommissioned Knox-class frigates. The island nation’s naval fleet carries out missions in the Taiwan Strait, including patrol, surveillance, offshore-island transportation and escort, maintenance of maritime communication lines, and training support.

Jong Shyn Shipbuilding held a ceremony Jan. 16 in Kaohsiung to mark the beginning of construction. The company had signed a contract on May 12, 2023, and began constructing one of the anti-air warfare frigates on Nov. 17, 2023.

The shipyard is expected to complete both vessels by October 2026, which will serve as prototypes before follow-on frigates are built.

According to a 2022 budget allocation, Taiwan plans to spend NT$24.6 billion (U.S. $777.7 million) for these two so-called new-generation light frigates, instead of previously planned heavy frigates.

“In order to strengthen its sea control capabilities, the Navy originally planned to build a new-generation missile frigate under the code name Project Zhenhai. Later ... it switched to a new-generation light frigate with a smaller tonnage,” according to the government-run Central News Agency.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to release the ships’ specifications to Defense News, but local media reported the vessels will likely displace nearly 3,000 tons and measure approximately 115 meters in length.

The government’s renderings show the anti-submarine warfare variant does not use vertical launching systems like the anti-air warfare type. Instead, the former boasts a towed-array sonar and two triple-torpedo launchers. Its phased-array radar appears to be BAE Systems’ Artisan offering.

Other armaments include eight deck-mounted launchers for Hsiung Feng II/III anti-ship missiles and TC-2N surface-to-air missiles. There is also an OTO Melara 76mm naval gun and two 30mm remote weapon stations.

Jong Shyn Shipbuilding has considerable experience constructing vessels for Taiwan’s Coast Guard Administration, including 3,000-ton cutters, but it does not have as much of a background in building ships for the Navy.

“They have the capability to make surface ships. This is OK, but we do not have the capability to integrate the weapons, sensors and all the systems integration,” Chen Kuo-ming, a Taipei-based defense analyst, told Defense News.

Gordon Arthur is an Asia correspondent for Defense News. After a 20-year stint working in Hong Kong, he now resides in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries around the Asia-Pacific region.

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