Taiwan Prepared to Build its Own Aircraft Carrier to Scare-off China
The Republic of China (Taiwan) seems to be seriously considering building its own aircraft carrier -- more specifically a carrier called a landing helicopter dock that can deploy the F-35 stealth fighter -- as part of a build-up of the Republic of China Armed Forces (ROCAF) to deter an invasion from mainland China.
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The Republic of China Navy (ROCN) recently revealed plans for a proposed helicopter carrier, which in technical terms is called a "Landing Helicopter Dock" amphibious assault ship or LHD.
ROCN revealed the LHD it has in mind might displace 22,000 tons; be capable of reaching 30 knots (55 km/h) and be 220 meters long. For air defense, the helicopter carrier will be armed with a surface-to-air missile system, and for engaging surface targets, an OTO Melara 76 mm gun.
The capacity to accommodate large helicopters means Taiwan's planned LHD will also be able to deploy vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) warplanes such as the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter; the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II VTOL jet and the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor multi-mission aircraft.
The LHD will be protected by 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.
Taiwan media reported senior ROCN officers as saying the specs are the navy's vision, but whether or not the LHD gets built is a matter of political will on the part of Taiwan's leadership.
Taiwan, however, has the technology and the money to build the LHD, said Mei Fu-hsing, director of the Taiwan Strait Security Research and Analysis Center.
He said an amphibious helicopter dock landing ship isn't "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 ($800 million or NT$25 billion), but also that included the cost (astronomical) of building in France," explained Mei.
"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 noted that building the LHD is mostly a matter of political will.
"If the military and the government does have 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 LHD Taiwan has in mind is similar to the Wasp-class LHDs operated by the U.S. Navy and the French Navy's Mistral-class LHDs also operated by the Egyptian Navy.
These warships are built with a full flight deck similar to an aircraft carrier and can operate attack and utility helicopters - and now vertical or short take-off and landing warplanes.
The U.S. Navy has eight active Wasp-class LHDs. Of the five Mistral-class LHDs, three are in service with the French Navy and two with the Egyptian Navy. The two Egyptian ships were originally built by France for the Russian Navy, but the sale was rescinded by France following Russia's invasion of the Crimea in March 2014.