Taiwan Navy eyes helicopter carrier

Taiwanese Navy proposes the construction of its own helicopter carrier

French Mistral-class Dixmude helicopter carrier, very similar in dimensions to proposed Taiwanese carrier. (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The navy revealed plans for a proposed helicopter carrier at a naval indigenous shipbuilding exhibition in Keelung Harbor yesterday. 

The navy detailed its plans to build what it calls an "Amphibious Landing Helicopter Dock Ship" at a display as was part of a naval indigenous shipbuilding exhibition that opened that day on the combat support ship AOE 532 Panshi, which was docked in Keelung Harbor.

According to the specifications listed on the display, the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) would have a displacement of 22,000 tons, have a top speed of 30 knots (55kph), and would be 220 meters in length. The helicopter carrier would be armed with an OTO Melara 76mm gun, an air defense missile system, actively electronically scanned array radar, and an advanced sonar system. The deck of the warship will be able to accommodate at least six large helicopters at the same time. 

In response to reporters' questions on whether this project will come to fruition, the Navy said, "This is the Navy's 'vision,' but whether it will really be included in the shipbuilding plan, and whether it will be built in the future will depend on government evaluations." 

Commenting on the viability of the project on his Facebook page, Mei Fu-hsing (梅復興), director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center, said:

"An 'Amphibious helicopter dock landing ship' is not necessarily unaffordable. Look at the price of the Mistral Class the French originally planned to sell to Russia, the size and naval vision of the plan is almost the unit price of about 700 million euros (about US$800 million today, that is NT$25 billion), but also that included the cost (astronomical) of building in France. We have already successfully built a vessel for to about NT$17 billion, and a next generation patrol ship cost will cost even higher than this. Yes, a LHD is definitely affordable."

He added that is it mostly a matter of political will:

"If the military and the government does posses the ability to put forward a rigorous, professional, complete and irrefutable argument to support the construction of the project, and persuade the public, and overcome the political resistance to the question of public opinion and chatter, it will be impossible to succeed."

The capacity to house large helicopters could also allow the new warship to carry other vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) warplanes, such as Harriers, Bell Boeing V-22 Ospreys, and the new F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), which the Taiwan military covets, but has yet to have the opportunity to purchase. 

According to information listed at the exhibition, the Navy also plans to build rapid minelayers, next-generation frigates, rescue ships, next-generation destroyers, minesweepers, submarines, amphibious dock vessels, multi-functional transport ships, and more Tuo Jiang-class corvettes.