Two US-built minehunters to join Taiwan navy

Taiwan is due to receive two coastal minehunters from the United States within months, in a deal aimed at enhancing the island's ability to defend itself against China, the navy said Thursday.

The two Osprey class vessels -- the world's second largest minehunters -- are expected to be delivered in the second half of this year, a navy spokesman told AFP, declining to provide a more specific timeframe.

The state Central News Agency said the two vessels, currently being retrofitted after they were decommissioned from the US navy in 2006, are scheduled to be handed over to Taiwan in July.

The vessels, capable of finding, classifying and destroying mines, will help Taiwan increase its anti-blockade capabilities in case of war with rival China, analysts say.

The sale of the two vessels is part of a $6.4 billion arms deal that also includes Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and communications equipment for Taiwan's F-16 fleet of fighter jets.

When the arms package was first announced by the United States in 2010, Beijing retaliated swiftly, suspending military exchanges and security talks with Washington.

Beijing still sees Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the island has governed itself since 1949.

China has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan should the island declare formal independence, prompting Taipei to seek more advanced weapons, largely from the United States.

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