Taiwanese lawmakers have trimmed the budget to form a fleet of 60 missile-equipped, 45-tonne fast-attack vessels, cutting as much as NT$200 million (US$6.48 million) from the initial total of NT$468 million for the program’s feasibility study and sea trials.

Members of the island’s Legislative Yuan slammed the military for splashing out on programs such as the missile boats that have “little tactical significance”, the island’s Central News Agency reported.

Previously the Taiwanese Navy had promised to cap the overall outlay on the 60 missile boats at NT$31.6 billion (US$1.02 billion).

The cutback came after a review of the navy’s budget by the Legislative Yuan’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.

At a meeting of the committee, Navy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Lee Tsung-hsiao said the design and testing of the fast-attack missile boats would begin next year. However, the first such vessel would not enter service until 2021.

The navy has yet to come up with a prototype for demonstrating to skeptical lawmakers in the hope of convincing them that smaller boats carrying missiles and explosives would be nimble enough to cut through and hold back an adversary’s invading fleet. 

Previous reports noted the Taiwanese military had been developing assault ships resembling fishing boats or yachts capable of firing one missile at a time against invading Chinese amphibious vessels. These miniaturized warships would sail from fishing ports, crewed by just two or three marines wearing civilian clothing.

The island is indeed in a need of a new flotilla of fast-attack missile boats following the retirement of old warships.

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Taiwanese seamen on patrol. Photo: Facebook

“Weapons [like missile boats] are all cheaper and asymmetrical assets if compared with regular platforms,” retired Taiwanese Rear Admiral Dan Chih-lung explained to Asia Times.

“For example, four fast-attack missile boats can carry eight missiles, the same number of those carried by a single Kidd-class, Perry-class or La Fayette-class warship, but with a much more affordable price tag,” he said during a previous interview.

When the island’s legislators are still debating new funding for the military’s “asymmetrical tactics” to counter China’s military posturing, overseas observers believe investments in fast missile boats, unmanned aerial vehicles and mine layers are a wise move, against the backdrop of an obvious mismatch in the size and strengths of the military powers on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.