Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is seen at the launch of two second-hand frigates bought from the US. Photo: Handout

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday inaugurated two refurbished Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates, purchased from the US, at a key naval base in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

Matthew O’Connor, the Kaohsiung head of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Washington’s de facto embassy, also attended the ceremony.

Built in the 1980s, the two frigates were originally named Taylor and Gary, and after their 2015 decommission from the US Navy, they were included in a US$1.8 billion arms deal to Taiwan announced in the same year by the US administration of president Barack Obama.

Taiwan splurged US$240 million for the purchase and renovation of the two frigates, which have been renamed Ming Chuan and Feng Chia.

President Tsai Ing-wen waves to attendees of the ceremony from the deck of one of the frigates. Photo: Handout
Seamen stand next to one of the two Perry-class guided-missile frigates. Photo: Handout

Even though they are second-hand, the Taiwanese navy still hailed the high mobility, high sea resistance and low noise of the two ships.

The warships are to patrol the Taiwan Strait. Navy Chief of Staff Vice-Admiral Lee Tsung-hsiao told reporters that their anti-submarine capabilities were more advanced than the island’s own Cheng Kung-class frigates, which are modeled on the Perry class, and could have a “deterrent effect” against Chinese submarines.

Also, according to reports by Taiwanese papers, the US side chose not to remove the two vessels’ SQR-19 sonar system, which is widely installed on other US warships.

Equipped with Mark 46 and Mark 50 anti-submarine torpedoes, these Perry-class ships were designed primarily as anti-aircraft and anti-submarine vessels intended to provide open-ocean escort of amphibious-warfare ships and merchant-ship convoys, and they later became part of the US aircraft-carrier strike groups. The retired frigates were either mothballed or transferred to other navies for continued service.

A file photo of the frigate Gary while it was in service with the US Navy. Photo: US Navy

The US House of Representatives voted in 2014 to pass the Taiwan Relations Act Affirmation and Naval Vessel Transfer Act, a bill that would allow eight more Perry frigates to be transferred to foreign countries.

The legislation would authorize the transfer of two additional such frigates, Carr and Elrod, to the Taiwanese navy for about US$10 million each.

Meanwhile, the AIT said in a release that the sale of the frigates could contribute to the military balance in the Indo-Pacific region.

“This sale is consistent with US commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide military articles that support Taiwan’s self-defense,” the institute said.

The frigates “will improve Taiwan’s capability in current and future defensive efforts, and further Taiwan’s continuing work to modernize its armed forces,” it said.

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