Two refurbished US coastal minehunters were delivered to the Republic of China (Taiwan) Navy on 2 August as part of an overall arms deal valued at $6.4 billion. The two Osprey-class minehunters, the former USS Oriole (MHC-55) and USS Falcon (MHC-59), were decommissioned by the US Navy in 2007 and were approved for sale to Taiwan at a cost of approximately $105 million in 2010.
Measuring 188 feet in length and weighing in at 893 tons loaded, the Osprey-class coastal minehunters are the second largest vessels of this class in operation. The USS Oriole entered service in 1995 and the USS Falcon began its career in 1997 as part of a twelve ship contingent built by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (formerly Litton Avondale Industries) and Intermarine USA for the US Navy. The Osprey-class vessels proved their value in US service and are expected to give the ROC Navy a significant boost in mine-hunting operations.
The two minehunters were delivered to the ROC Navy following a three year refit that included a comprehensive regimen of crew familiarization and operational training. The two ships will join Taiwan’s existing fleet of eight minesweepers/minehunters, some of which date back to the mid-1950s.
The ROC Navy currently operates a fleet of amphibious landing ships, destroyers, submarines, frigates, and the aged minesweepers/minehunters. Although the 38,000-man force is relatively small, it is considered to be well-trained and capable.
Osprey-class minehunters were designed to locate, classify, and destroy naval mines in coastal waterways, harbors, and littoral areas. These ships are equipped with an array of mine-hunting devices including Raytheon AN/SQQ-32 sonar, AN/SLQ-48 Mine Neutralizing Vehicles (MNV), video sensors, remotely-controlled mine detonators, cable cutters, and two .50 caliber machineguns. The minehunters have a cruising speed of 10 knots and mission endurance of 15 days.
With these two ships, the ROC Navy will have a much improved warfighting capability and will be much better equipped to protect vital sea lanes, critical coastal areas, and maritime trade routes.
The overall defense package negotiated with the United States, valued at $6.4 billion, also includes UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, upgrades to Taiwan’s fleet of 146 F-16 fighters, and Patriot missiles. When announced in 2010, this agreement drew an angry response from Beijing that temporarily suspended US-Chinese military exchanges and diplomatic talks related to Pacific security issues.
Taipei has scheduled a formal commissioning ceremony for 10 August to officially induct the two minehunters into active service. Admiral Tung Hsiang-lung, Chief of the ROC Navy, is scheduled to preside over the ceremonies at the Zuoying Military Harbor in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.