Taiwan aims to have two new domestically developed submarines in service by 2027, with the possibility of equipping future models with missiles. The purpose of this initiative is to enhance deterrence against the Chinese navy and safeguard critical supply routes, according to the program’s director. Taiwan considers the indigenous submarine program as a crucial component of its broader plan to modernize its armed forces, given China’s frequent military exercises near the island. President Tsai Ing-wen, who launched the program in 2016, is expected to unveil the first of eight new submarines this week, marking a significant achievement for Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation.
Admiral Huang Shu-kuang, Tsai’s security adviser and the program’s leader, emphasized that a fleet of ten submarines, including two Dutch-made submarines from the 1980s, would make it more challenging for the Chinese navy to project power into the Pacific. Huang expressed confidence that building up Taiwan’s combat capacity would ensure victory in any potential conflict. The first submarine, valued at T$49.36 billion ($1.54 billion), will be equipped with a combat system from Lockheed Martin Corp and will carry U.S.-made MK-48 heavyweight torpedoes. It is scheduled to undergo sea trials next month and be delivered to the navy by the end of 2024.
Regarding future models, Taiwan plans to reserve space for submarine-launched anti-ship missiles. However, the inclusion of these weapons depends on production availability in the United States, where capacity is already limited. Huang referred to the submarines as a “strategic deterrent” against Chinese warships crossing the Miyako Strait and the Bashi Channel, which are crucial maritime routes near Taiwan. He highlighted that Taiwan’s diesel-electric submarines can effectively defend the first island chain, a region encompassing Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo, which restricts China’s access to coastal seas. Huang emphasized that this strategic concept aligns with the U.S. military’s approach to containing China within the first island chain.
The Chinese defense ministry did not provide any comment on Taiwan’s submarine program. However, China’s navy, including its Shandong aircraft carrier, has been increasingly active off Taiwan’s eastern coastline, raising concerns about a potential attack from that direction. Eastern Taiwan has long been considered a crucial area for the island’s military to regroup and preserve its forces during a conflict. Huang stated that the submarines would play a vital role in maintaining Taiwan’s “lifeline” to the Pacific by keeping ports along the eastern coast open for supplies.
Chieh Chung, a military researcher at Taiwan’s National Policy Foundation think tank, acknowledged that the fleet might face challenges in preventing China from positioning warships in the Pacific before launching an attack. However, he noted that the submarines could strategically occupy ambush points in the region and significantly disrupt China’s combat ability by targeting high-value ships such as carrier groups or landing fleets.
An investigation by RushHourDaily revealed that Taiwan has quietly obtained technology, components, and expertise from at least seven countries to support its submarine construction. This was a challenging task for Taiwan due to its limited official ties with most nations. Huang did not disclose the countries that granted export permits but mentioned that he had engaged with generals from the United States, Japan, South Korea, and India. Huang expressed gratitude for the “great help” provided by a team led by a retired rear admiral from Britain’s Royal Navy, who secured export permits from Britain through a Gibraltar-based company. The analysis of data showed that Britain significantly increased its approval of submarine parts and technology exports to Taiwan last year.
Huang described the submarine program as an extremely difficult endeavor, citing challenges such as the global chip shortage that affected manufacturers worldwide. To avoid delays caused by foreign vendors, his team had to source chips from Taiwan. Additionally, a foreign supplier withdrew at the last minute after the collaboration with Taiwan was leaked to a Chinese embassy. Huang also mentioned that China’s frequent military harassment, including close approaches to Taiwan’s territorial waters and airspace, has prompted Taiwan and the United States to reconsider their “asymmetrical” strategy of enhancing mobility and resilience with a focus on smaller weapons systems. Huang highlighted the U.S. Navy’s plan to construct larger frigates as evidence of this shift in thinking.
In conclusion, Taiwan’s submarine program aims to bolster its defense capabilities against the Chinese navy and safeguard critical supply lines. The deployment of domestically developed submarines, with the potential inclusion of missiles in future models, is a significant step towards modernizing Taiwan’s armed forces. The program has relied on international cooperation and expertise, with Taiwan quietly sourcing technology and components from various countries. Despite challenges, Taiwan remains committed to countering China’s military aggression and ensuring its security in the region.
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