After more than a decade of delays and reversals, the navy has confirmed that it will embark on a domestic submarine program next year, with a prototype to be delivered within three to four years.
Taiwanese and US sources told the Taipei Times earlier this month that officials from the Taiwanese Navy had briefed a small group of legislators from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee during a classified meeting late last month or early this month. Legislators from the Democratic Progressive Party are also said to have attended the meeting.
While not mentioning the initial meeting with legislators, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported yesterday that the navy would brief senior government officials and legislators on the issue and seek budgets for the program within two months.
One US source, who has been actively involved in efforts to procure submarines for Taiwan over the years, told the Taipei Times in a meeting on Feb. 11 that an unspecified budget for the 2013 financial year has been set aside for a domestic diesel-electric submarine program, which would involve a unique design and assistance from one or a number of foreign countries.
The navy is reportedly aiming for a design with a relatively light displacement of between 1,000 tonnes and 1,500 tonnes.
A navy official told the Taipei Times earlier this month that the acquisition of submarines from the US remains the preferred option and that the door — at least on Taipei’s side — has not been closed on such a course of action.
However, after more than a decade of aborted efforts following the offer by the administration of former US president George W. Bush in 2001 to provide eight diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan for the sum of about US$12 billion, Taipei has since resigned itself to the reality that it will likely have to build them itself or acquire them from a third party, analysts say.
Local media have reported that three countries have expressed an interest in either assisting Taiwan develop its own submarine prototype or selling it ships recently decommissioned from their own fleets.
Although it did not exclude such a possibility, the Ministry of National Defense yesterday would not provide confirmation on the matter.
One country, Germany, has often been rumored to be a possible candidate for the program. However, an official at the German Institute, Taipei denied yesterday any knowledge of such efforts as being underway.
Greece has been another country that has been rumored as a possible candidate, although the economic crisis that has beset the country could make it difficult to realize such efforts.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), who sits on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said yesterday that acquiring submarines from abroad would be difficult, as most countries that manufacture them enjoy good relations with Beijing and were reluctant to risk compromising those ties over the sale of submarines to Taiwan.
Lin said a more feasible alternative would be for Taiwan to consult with international naval experts to develop its own subs.
The Taipei Times reported in December last year that naval authorities were readying to send personnel abroad to study production technology or to negotiate technology transfers to develop pressure-resistant hulls, which are said to be among the most challenging aspects in building submarines.