Taiwan to build eight submarines

Submarines at a navy base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The eight locally made submarines will replace the existing foreign-built underwater vessels, two of which were built during World War II and two others in the late 1980s.
Submarines at a navy base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The eight locally made submarines will replace the existing foreign-built underwater vessels, two of which were built during World War II and two others in the late 1980s.PHOTO: REUTERS

Locally made vessels will revitalise defence industry and be in service by 2027: Taipei

Taiwan plans to build eight submarines to bolster its current fleet of four ageing vessels, its navy chief said yesterday.

Navy chief Lee Tsung-hsiao yesterday confirmed that Taiwan aimed to build eight of such vessels, after President Tsai Ing-wen announced two weeks ago that it will develop its own submarines.

Officials told lawmakers yesterday the design for the new vessels will be finalised by early next year and they will be in service by 2027.

A total of NT$2.9 billion (S$133.7 million) will be set aside from last December to December 2020 for the design of the submarines. The eight locally made submarines will replace Taiwan's four foreign-built underwater vessels. Two of these were built in the United States during World War II, while the other two are Dutch-built submarines, commissioned in the late 1980s.

China has at least 53 diesel-powered attack submarines, mostly based in Hainan.

Ms Tsai had also earlier announced plans for Taiwan to design and manufacture its own supersonic training jets.

While Taipei said the plans to develop its own submarines and training jets were part of a push to revitalise the local defence industry, experts point to the growing military threat from China.

In January, a group of Chinese warships led by the Liaoning aircraft carrier entered the Taiwan Strait. China has more than 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan, according to the Defence Ministry.

Taiwan has been unable to buy submarines and aircraft from the US and European suppliers given pressure from Beijing, which sees the island as a renegade province.

Then US President Barack Obama blocked a US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) arms package for Taiwan last December. Taiwan and the US are now engaged in fresh arms sales talks, which Taipei hopes will include technology transfer and parts for its self-made submarines.

But there are concerns that the summit between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, to be held today and tomorrow, could jeopardise the discussions. Giving an update to lawmakers yesterday, the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology said it will draw on its experience from an ongoing upgrade of the existing submarines to build the new vessels.

But analysts have expressed doubts over whether Taiwan can develop its own submarines and jets.

Tamkang University national security expert Alexander Huang told The Straits Times that while Taiwan has built its own warships, it will need the expertise of veteran US or European submarine builders to build an operational submarine.

"In areas such as integrating weapons and communications systems, only the foreign companies have the know-how and materials. We need to import or else it will be too difficult, even impossible, to do it ourselves," he said.

But Professor Liu Fu-kuo, executive director of the National Chengchi University's Taiwan Centre for Security Studies, said the island might have already received help.

"For the Defence Ministry to openly commit to deliver a design blueprint by next year, it must be confident it has or will get the resources and support to meet its goals."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan to build eight submarines'. Print Edition | Subscribe