2009/07/17

Kwang Hwa VI

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I learned more than ten years ago about a Republic of China (Taiwan) naval project for a 'stealth' missile boat Kwang Hwa VI (~fast attack craft).
It kept me puzzled about its purpose all the time.


Taiwan has two obviously dominant naval requirements:
1) Deter/Defend against an invasion by the PRC
2) Protection of its overseas trade (deter/break a blockade)

Other requirements certainly exist as well, but are of lesser importance
3) cooperate with air power by providing surface-to-air missile coverage over sea
4) land attack
5) protection of naval link with Pratas Islands and Taiping Island (near PRC coast)

I don't see how missile boats would be useful in such a setup. Such boats are much less cost-efficient in an anti-invasion role than coastal missile batteries (on trucks) and also quite useless for convoying.

The only utility seems to be their land attack ability - if their Hsiung Feng II (or III) missiles are prepared for it. Yet, even then it's questionable whether they're worth their cost. It would be much cheaper to launch the missiles from an auxiliary ship (with strategic surprise) or to simply use longer-ranged, heavier missiles. Finally, they've got their islands as forward bases for such land attack missions.

The Taiwanese Hsiung Feng missile family is actually quite interesting, but that doesn't explain the missile boats.

Well, maybe the Taiwanese defence establishment knows a good explanation for the class.

Sven Ortmann
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6 comments:

  1. Those boats are first of all cheap: Compare compare their price per unit of 10 Mio USD to the 240 Euro of the new German K-130 corvette.

    The scenario for which they are intended appears to be very much similar to the job that was assigned to the German FACs in the Baltic Sea: Prevent an invasion by sea. I do not think that land attack capability matters here. In addition such boats can protect fishing vessels.

    Land-based missles: One needs surveillance data in order to be able to fire a missle, and obviously a boat has both radar and the missles on board. Do not think that it is so easy to find a ship in the open sea. Moreover, who would want to wait with attacking an invasion fleet until it is in reach of land-based weapons?

    With their stealthy features these new boats won't be that easy to detect, and they definitely do not represent a high value target either (but can be a great threat). I wonder, however, why the designers did not include any meaningful anti-air capabilities - most probably because the PLAN is still lacking an aircraft carrier?

    Finally: Do note that the PLAN itself also has a good number of FACs.

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  2. OK, piece for piece:

    Cheap? 10 Mio USD is extremely expensive in comparison with four 6x4 trucks that can launch such missiles from the coast.

    The German FACs had the complex Danish coastline for hiding and a 76mm gun to pick off small targets. Some classes also had torpedoes to finish off ships. Kwang Hwa has nothing like that.
    Their mission wasn't just to counter amphibious ops; it was very much about blocking the Northern Sea-Baltic Sea connection (Kattegatt) for surface combatants.

    The Hsiung Feng missile range covers the whole Taiwan Strait, the KW boats extend the missile reach of Taiwan, but it doesn't look useful for anything but land attack to me.
    A strategic surprise invasion would most likely not be engaged before it's at the horizon.

    Such small boats have radar and other means of detection and identification, but no more than mere fishing boats. I'd rate them as lousy picket ships.

    The Taiwan Strait is big, but the PRC has many aircraft - it could easily find these boats even if it relied on visual detection and ID.
    An invasion wouldn't happen in difficult weather. They would be visible - and they could barely defend themselves against low altitude fly-by's.

    The lack of AAW capabilities (I assume ManPADS are the most important AAW capabilities for these boats) cannot be explained with a lack of PLAN CVs. Taiwan is easily in range of PLAF land-based aviation and these boats are ill-suited for high seas escorting.

    I assume that these boats are probably tools for
    - command slots
    - some training
    - some fishing policing
    - indigenous warship development exercise
    The HF missiles are probably just an excuse for the procurement.

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  3. Taiwan is fairly small leaving a limited room for mobile missle batteries to move around everythig else that is mobilizing.

    The mobility gives a protection against nuclear attack that is equal to a very expensive land bunker.

    It spreads their force over a larger area increasing the cost for mainland china to arm enough to beat their force.

    It can probably act as an autonomus unit wich is usefull during fog of war.

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  4. I'd like to add a couple of additional thoughts:

    * When you are an island then you certainly do not want to give up the sea and restrict yourself to land-based defence only. If you did so, you'd literally invite the enemy to bully your fishers and establish a sea blockade.

    * It does matter to keep up a missle threat also on the open sea, not just in the coastal region. The enemy must operate with much greater caution since tracking or even eliminating all 30 FACs is an impossible task.

    * These boats look too small for a decent radar and sophisticated anti-air weaponry (BTW I doubt Taiwan would be permitted to buy RAM). I also wonder about the boats' seaworthiness, I cannot imagine they behave well in heavy winds due to their rather large superstructure.

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  5. These boats aren't their "only" defence. They've got subs and destroyers as well, and air power has a good reach as well.

    The sub and air threat is already enough to cause headaches for Taiwan's potential enemy.

    I consider such boats as a marginal choice for fishing protection.
    Their equipment and size are simply ill-suited for the task.


    There's also a more general problem with the armament (normal sea skimmer anti-ship missile):
    It's difficult to use in case of an invasion. An invasion fleet would consist of many ships, most of them quite low value targets. Such a missile armament would be very difficult to aim correctly against the few high-value targets.

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  6. The only reason I think these would be batter than a truck mounted system or a land mounted system is the fact that the ocean is a very large place.
    A bunch of small boats would be very hard to find, where land versions would be easy to find, and there are only so many good spots (roads) in positions to fire on invasion boats.
    These boats along with truck mounted systems could create an overlapping missile defense.
    Lets face it, to invade Taiwan they need to get large transport ships docked or on the beach.
    Mobile missile systems seem to be the easy way to keep that from happening....

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