TAIPEI, Taiwan - Vietnam is in talks with Dutch-shipbuilder Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (DSNS) for the purchase of four Sigma-class corvettes, a spokesperson for the shipbuilder said on Nov. 11.
Two of the ships will reportedly be built in Vietnam, where the technology transfer will be an "important contribution" to the country's ability to develop its navy and a "national capability for warship repair and maintenance," said Sam Bateman from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
In 2005, Vietnam canceled plans to build Project 2100-type corvettes because the task was beyond its technical capacity.
"Vietnam has been able to assembly BPS 2000 corvettes from knock up kits, but was not able to step up to taking charge of the construction process," said Carlyle Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy.
But the SIGMA vessels - the acronym stands for Ship Integrated Geometrical Modularity Approach - "represents a revolutionary new modular technology in which ships from 50 meters to 150 meters can be built," Thayer said.
There has been no confirmation on what type of Sigma-class vessel is under consideration.
Vietnam will be joining Indonesia and Morocco in operating Sigma-class vessels. Indonesia began taking delivery of four Sigma-class vessels in 2007; a year later, Morocco signed a $2.12 billion contract for three vessels that are now being delivered.
"This represents a major stride forward in Vietnamese defense industry capabilities," Thayer said. "The SIGMA class represents a major step forward in technology and tonnage."
Vietnam's navy has been expanding both its surface and submarine fleet with new procurements from Russia, including Kilo-class submarines. The modernization effort is part of a response to China's growing military clout in the South China Sea and territorial disputes over islands claimed by both nations.
"The bottom line is that Vietnam is stepping up the pace of acquiring modern ships capable of defending Vietnamese interests in its Exclusive Economic Zone, such as armed escort for oil exploration vessels," Thayer said.
Beijing has thus far used mainly civilian enforcement vessels in its dispute with Vietnam, but now "China will now have to decide whether to accept the new status quo or commit to deploying PLAN [People's Liberation Army Navy] ships," he said.
In May, three Chinese vessels operated by the State Oceanic Administration harassed a Vietnamese oil exploration seismic survey vessel inside Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone.
China and Vietnam have been bumping into one another in the South China Sea since the 1970s. In 1974, China took the Paracel Islands by military force from then-South Vietnam, but Hanoi continues to claim the islands. Then, in 1988, China and Vietnam fought over the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea. China sank two Vietnamese naval vessels and opened fired on Vietnamese troops occupying the reef, killing 30.