Refitted Osprey-class minehunters set for July delivery

Taipei, May 17 (CNA) Two Osprey-class coastal minehunting ships that the military has purchased from the United States are scheduled to be delivered to Taiwan in July after being refitted and reactivated, military sources said Thursday. The two minehunters will be commissioned into service in October to help beef up the Navy's minehunting and minesweeping capabilities to counter the threat of China using naval mines to impose a sea blockade against Taiwan in the event of conflict, the sources said. The U.S. first announced the sale of the two Osprey-class minehunters -- USS Oriole and USS Falcon -- in 2006. They formed part of a US$6.4 billion arms package notified to the U.S. Congress in January 2010. USS Oriole was commissioned in 1995, while USS Falcon was commissioned in 1997. They were both decommissioned from U.S. naval service in 2007. The military sources said Taiwanese naval personnel went to the United States more than a year ago to conduct de-mothballing and reactivating missions as well as to receive training in operating the minehunters and familiarize themselves with the equipment. The refitted ships have gone on many rounds of sea trials, the sources said, adding that the U.S. will use cargo vessels to deliver the minehunters to Taiwan. British journal Jane's Defence Weekly reported early this year that the two 895-ton Osprey-class minehunters have undergone comprehensive hull, machinery and combat management overhaul and upgrades in the U.S. The ships, whose hulls are made of fiberglass and designed to survive an underwater explosion, use sonar and video equipment to detect moored and undersea mines and a remote-controlled mine detonating device to secure key waterways, a military expert said. Twelve Osprey-class minehunting ships were built for the U.S. Navy by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in the 1990s and they were in service from 1993 through 2007. The ships were decommissioned before the expiration of their pre-defined life span in line with a U.S. military transformation plan, the expert said, adding that the U.S. has sold relatively new ones to its allies. (By Chen Pei-huang and Sofia Wu)