Kang Ding-class [La Fayette] Frigate
Taiwan's Kuang Hua II [Glorious China] naval modernization program, after considerable study, settled on the French LaFayette frigate, with the purchase of six Lafayette-class (Kang Ting-class) frigates at a cost of US$2.8 billion. The Lafayette-class frigates are armed with indigenously- produced Hsiung Feng II ASCMs, and air defense weapons systems include the Sea Chaparral. The primary mission of these newer frigates is sea control, particularly the capability to protect the sea lanes beyond the range of coastal aircraft.
In the late 1980s Taiwan had conceived of a new coastal defense plan that relied on a fleet of small frigates. The project planned to purchase 2,000 ton frigates from South Korea. But in 1991 this plan was dropped in favor of six larger 3,000 ton warships built by the French company Thomson-CSF.
The French Lorient Shipbuilding Corporation began production of the LaFayette class ASW frigate in 1988. The sleek-looking LaFayette has advanced armament and ultrahigh stealth capability. The LaFayette class frigate has integrated exterior, IR and sonar stealth technology, making it a first-class advanced 21st-century stealthy fighting ship. The stealth aspect of the La Fayette was crucial to the "listening post" role as the ship gives the radar signature of a a 500-ton fishing trawler.
Formerly the decks of ships were cluttered with one or two superstructures, smokestacks, fore and aft main guns, air-defense missiles and anti-submarine launchers, electric jamming chaff dispensers, and even boats suspended abeam. The electronic and mechanical equipment heaped aft of the superstructures not only created problems of electromagnetic compatibility, but greatly increased radar reflecting surfaces of every kind. Clever external design has reduced the radar reflecting surfaces of the LaFayette class vessel, and the protruding parts of the ship and equipment exteriors all have tilted angles that prevent reflection of radar waves.
The angles of the superstructure are up to 10 degrees (those of the U.K. Type 23 frigate and the US Arleigh Burke destroyers are about 7 degrees), and the angles of the sides of the hull can exceed 20 degrees, not found on any other vessel of its type. Furthermore, its decks are extremely clear with little armament exposed. Its superstructure is also coated with radar wave-absorbing material and built with glass epoxy composite material.
These ships are diesel powered (CODAD) with no turbine propulsion for rapid acceleration. These ships were designed from the onset as forward deployment listening posts for areas of French interest. Endurance provided by diesel propulsion was paramount for this role.
Since France refused to sell Taiwan the Lafayette shipboard weapons, Taiwan had to turn to domestic and US made equipment. The Kang Ding is equipped with rather unsophisticated Sea Chaparral antiaircraft missiles which cannot cope with basic point-defense operations, forming a contrast with the advanced craft. The system lacks anti-saturation attack capabilities and even all-weather combat capabilities. Its maximum firing range is 18 kilometers; maximum firing height 3,000 meters; and maximum velocity Mach 2.5. It has continuous rod warheads with optical aiming plus infrared guidance. Therefore, it is only capable of countering low-flying aircraft and lacks antimissile, omnidirectional attack, and well-developed antijamming capabilities. After four missiles have been fired, the remaining eight have to be manually loaded, so it cannot possibly adapt to the three-defense conditions and modern rapid reaction conditions. The AIM-9D Sidewinder missiles that this system uses were originally air-to-air missiles and represent the level of sophistication of the mid-1960's. In view of this, the Taiwan military planned to replace them with Standard-I medium-range missiles fired from the MK41 vertical launching system.
The Kang Ding is equipped with the French Thomson-Sintra Corporation and British Aerospace Corporation's active towed-line-array sonar and bow sonar. The active towed-line array sonar normally makes a passive search first, then it switches to active search when it finds a target, determines the submarine target specifications and bearing, and directs the anti-submarine weapon onto the target. The French do not have a ASW suite in their ships as do the Taiwanese in the Kang Ding. Instead, there is a large area at the stern for French commandos who can launch inflatable boats through a hatch.
Apart from the Kang Ding's poor antiaircraft capabilities, the most problematic part arises from the fact that Taiwan's long use of US-made weapons provides little familiarity with French-made equipment in terms of logistic support, training, and maintenance. After the domestically and US-made equipment is installed, matching software has to be designed and installed. This involves software management and production, quality assurance, software testing, portability, cost-effectiveness, manpower management and training.
Incompatibility between the software and hardware onboard will hamper the performance of the vessel and the ability to operate with other naval and air force units. Such a major project for changing the command system software will be an unprecedented test for the Taiwan navy. As of mid-1999 development of the electronic warfare system for the Kang Ding-class frigates remained seriously behind schedule. The program to indigenously develop the EW system, begun soon after the ships were contracted for in 1992, has been unable to deliver a definitive system. The Kang Ding-class units have operated without effective EW defense since deliveries began in 1996, and EW equipment varies from ship to ship.
The effectiveness of the Kang Ding frigates cannot be determined merely by looking at their external appearance. Overall, the Kang Ding class undoubtedly has a certain superiority over the warships of mainland China's navy, especially in terms of antisubmarine and stealth features, but it also has many hidden problems and weaknesses, which will be hard to overcome. The day when they can truly go into action is remains distant.
When the scandal over the purchase of Lafayette frigates erupted, no one paid closer attention to it than Chen Shui-bian. In March of 1994, when Chen was convener of the National Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan as a member of the opposition, he delivered eight separate reports on the Lafayette frigate, the minesweeper, and the oceanographic research vessels arms purchase scandals. During a subsequent legislative interpellation session, Chen Shui-bian declared that because the Lafayette frigate case involved kickbacks of more than NT$5 billion the state must find out who received the money. Andrew Wang was the Taiwan agent of Thomson-CSF, the French company that built the Lafayette frigates, and he was also a key figure in the case of the murder of navy captain Yin Ching-feng. As soon as Chen Shui-bian assumed the office of the president, a special task force was set up to investigate the Lafayette frigate corruption case. But over the past three years, other than the indictment of a few mid-ranking military officers, the investigation yielded confusion from beginning to end.
The surface-to-air missiles on the Navy's fleet of La Fayette Class frigates will be replaced with a more advanced system starting in 2017, a senior Naval officer said 04 November 2013. The U.S.-made RIM-72C Sea Chaparral missiles will be replaced with Taiwan's own Sky Sword IIs, Navy Chief of Staff Kao Tien-chung said when answering questions at the Legislative Yuan's Foreign and National Defense Committee. The ship-based Sky Sword II, or Tien Chien II, is a variant of the radar guided air-to-air missile developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) under the Ministry of National Defense. It has a range of about 100 kilometers, compared with the Sea Chaparral's 10 km. The U.S.-made missiles were first deployed by the Navy in the early 1970s. Taiwan took delivery of its first 3,200-ton La Fayette frigate from France in 1996. All six frigates are equipped with French-made surveillance and combat systems, although the weapon systems are all made in the United States or Taiwan.
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