Navy seeking to replace aging Knox frigate class

By Brian Hsu
Saturday, Apr 17, 2004,Page 2

As the navy phases out its World War II-era Yang-class destroyers in favor of Kidd-class destroyers, it has also started to search for a replacement for its Knox-class frigates, defense sources said yesterday. The navy has had eight Knox-class frigates in service since 1992. The frigates are equipped with the most effective anti-submarine warfare sensors that the navy has ever had at its disposal.

These frigates, built in the early 1970s, were already approaching their service ceiling of 20 to 30 years when the US delivered them to the navy between 1992 and 1998.

Though useable for a few more years, the Knox-class frigates are already spending much more time in port than at sea.

All the Knox-class frigates are based at the Suao military port.

A naval officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said many of the Knox frigates have developed serious mechanical problems, causing their patrol missions to have been greatly reduced.

"The No. 932 Chiyang, for instance [Ex USS Robert E. Peary FF-1073], has become inoperable. Its problems are both mechanical and structural," the officer said.

"Other ships in the same class are not in much better shape. They are either short of spare parts or damaged in some vital way," he said.

A senior official serving with the navy general headquarters acknowledged that the Knox-class frigates are not in good condition but denied that the ships have become "beached wrecks."

"The combat readiness ratio of the Knox-class frigates is still over 50 percent, which is good in terms of ships of this age," the official said.

"We hope to use these ships for another four to six years. We are desperate to find a replacement for the Knox, but it is not easy to find one for the moment," the official said.

The navy is divided over what type of ship should be chosen to replace the Knox, sources said. One group favors smaller ships, of around 2,000 tonnes in displacement, while the other group argues that the navy needs a larger platform to accommodate not only old weapon systems from the Knox but also new ones that could be added. The Knox has a displacement of 3,877 tonnes.

If the navy chooses smaller ships, it might ask the state-run China Shipbuilding Corp (CSBC) to build the new vessels. This would be welcomed by local shipbuilders who would benefit from any contracts won by CSBC.

But the larger platform might win out because many in the navy don't want to wait for new ships to be constructed domestically, which would take many years and entail great cost. For these reasons, many in the navy are inclined to buy ships from the US second-hand market.