Taiwan’s loading up on new minelaying vessels. And it’s not hard to see why. With no realistic prospect of matching the Chinese navy warship for warship, the Taiwanese fleet is hoping that underwater minefields might help to sink an invasion fleet.
Lungteh shipyard on April 17, 2020 laid the keel for the third and fourth Min Jiang-class minelayer. The Republic of China Navy plans to begin accepting the minelayers in 2021.
The Taiwanese fleet’s existing minelayers are modified landing craft.
The Min Jiangs are not large. Just 120 feet long and displacing around 400 tons, they are lightly built and minimally armed with a handful of guns. Their mission, in wartime, is to use their automated mine-deploying systems quickly to lay minefields in the path of a Chinese invasion fleet.
The minefields presumably would be close to shore. “The minelayer ships were designed to face down an attack by amphibious vehicles trying to land in Taiwan,” a Taiwanese defense official said at the keel-laying ceremony for the first Min Jiang.
Sea mines are among the most dangerous naval weapons. It’s not for no reason that Iran leans heavily on mines in its strategy for closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz. It only helps navies such as Taiwan’s that many rival fleets struggle to maintain adequate minesweeping forces.
The Min Jiangs are part of a three-way approach to an “asymmetric” naval strategy. Instead of trying to match China’s scores of big, heavily-armed -- and expensive -- frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers, Taiwan plans to exploit specific Chinese weaknesses in order to raise the cost of an invasion.
In addition to the Min Jiangs, Taiwan also is building at least 11 new catamaran missile corvettes of the Tuo Chiang. Each of the speedy, 600-tons-displacement vessels carries 16 anti-ship missiles. The Tuo Chiangs will complement 42 older missile boats when they enter service beginning in 2021.
The third part of Taiwan’s asymmetric naval strategy lags by a few years. In addition to minelayers and missile corvettes, Taiwan is trying to build eight new diesel-electric attack submarines to replace four very old submarines currently in the fleet.
Since none of the world’s major submarine-builders will risk China’s wrath by selling an existing sub design to Taiwan, Taipei is spending potentially billions of dollars developing the submarines on its own, albeit with the help of foreign consultants.
Work on the new boats began in May 2019 at a shipyard in Kaohsiung. The coronavirus pandemic that swept East Asia starting the following December slowed the work. Taipei’s ban on foreign visitors, meant to halt the virus’s spread, also denied entry to Taiwan for dozens of foreign consultants working on the submarine project.
Expect work to resume as soon as possible. The submarine program and the other asymmetric naval efforts are top priorities in Taiwan.
After all, losing a large number of amphibious ships and landing craft to submarines, missiles and sea mines could compel China to call off an invasion, or at least delay the invasion long enough for U.S. forces to intervene.