Mon, Sep 26, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Navy to give subs new missiles

U-BOAT UPGRADE The navy plans to fit its two attack subs with advanced anti-ship missiles that will enable it to attack coastal, in-harbor and land targets, a report said

BY MAC WILLIAM BISHOP  /  STAFF REPORTER

The navy will equip its only two operational submarines with advanced anti-ship missiles, a leading defense magazine reports in this week's edition, in an article released early on its Web site.

The two Zwaardvis-class submarines, the Hai Lung (海龍) and the Hai Hu (海虎) will be equipped with US-built Harpoon anti-ship missiles in an effort to increase their combat-effectiveness, according to the Jane's Defence Weekly article.

The move is considered a cheap way for the Taiwanese navy to address what some analysts have called critical shortcomings in its ability to defend against a Chinese invasion.

Still, the article quoted one source as saying "[the submarines'] ability to fire a Harpoon is considered marginal at best."

The Harpoons that Taiwan is to acquire could include a modification that would give Taiwan "the capability of attacking coastal, in-harbor and land targets," Jane's said.

"This will place China's key naval bases of Shantou, Xiamen, Sandu, Xaizhen, Shanghai and Zhoushan in Taiwan's crosshairs," the magazine said.

Taiwan technically has a fleet of four submarines, but the navy's two Guppy-class subs -- built by the US in the middle of World War II -- are considered suitable only for training, and are not equipped with torpedoes.

The Dutch-built Zwaardvis-class submarines were built in the 1980s, and have in the past been armed with wire-guided torpedoes that have had a series of technical problems.

Taiwan's navy considers its submarine program to be one area that requires a great deal of attention, due to the perceived key role submarines could play in breaking or preventing a Chinese naval blockade. For this reason, the Ministry of National Defense has sought the purchase of additional submarines for several years, in an effort to beef up the nation's submarine fleet.

In 2001, Washington approved a deal in which it would procure eight diesel-electric submarines for purchase by Taiwan. That deal has long been stymied as part of the special arms procurement budget bill, which has been blocked 29 times in the Legislative Yuan by pro-unification legislators from the Chinese Nationalist Party and the People First Party.

China, which has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan under a wide array of conditions, has one of the world's largest submarine fleets, with about 70 operational vessels as of this year, according to Pentagon reports.

The US maintains a fleet of more than 50 nuclear-powered attack submarines.

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