Over the past few years there have been several twists and turns in Taiwan’s efforts to develop an indigenous submarine. According to a report published by the US-Taiwan Business Council on Jan. 1, Taiwanese approached submarine contractors and experts in at least three Western European countries in October last year in the hope of obtaining the technology to develop a submarine. This news re-ignited hope that Taiwan would soon be able to build its own subs.
The national shipbuilder, CSBC Corp, Taiwan, has expressed confidence in its ability to build submarines. According to CSBC chairman Paul Tang (譚泰平), the main problems are technological support and material procurement. The company has the ability, staff training and production line equipment needed to build them, he said.
However, Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) raised doubts over such claims when responding to a question from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方). He said that having reviewed the data provided by CSBC, he thought that any suggestion the company could build submarines belonged more in the realm of wishful thinking than reality.
When questioned further by KMT Legislator Lin Kuo-cheng (林國正) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), Kao said: “Any indigenous submarine construction must satisfy both submarine functionality and the safety of officers and crew, and diving and resurfacing are the most basic requirements.”
However, Kao betrayed the same ignorance as former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who while still a legislator claimed that during the first test the Republic of China (ROC) Navy made with the Dutch-made Hai Lung-class (sea dragon) submarine, it failed to dive.
Anyone who understands the basics of submarine construction would be aware there is no way such a thing could have happened.
The question of whether Taiwan has the capability to build its own submarines is not a new one.
Between 1994 and 1997 the ROC Navy decided to expand its fleet of submarines as part of the Neptune program within the wider context of the Ministry of National Defense’s armed forces renewal drive. This involved setting aside NT$69 billion (US$2.34 billion) for the construction of eight Taiwan-built submarines, with the help of technology transfers. It was estimated that with the addition of several pieces of equipment and facilities, Taiwan would be able to build a further six submarines after an initial two had been built abroad by overseas contractors, in a model referred to as “foreign blueprint, domestic construction.”
The report on this program is currently lying in a ROC Navy filing cabinet, having yet to see the light of day. I do not know whether Kao would care to explain why it is that something deemed viable nearly 20 years ago is considered impossible today.
The experience of Australia and South Korea is informative. When Australia built its six second-generation Collins-class submarines, the Royal Australian Navy supported the government in its policy of establishing a domestic production line. Now they plan to build 12 third--generation submarines in the same way.
The Republic of Korea Navy benefited from a technological transfer from Germany and built Type 209 submarines and then Son Won-il-class submarines. Seoul is now expected to sell three of its 1,400-tonne Type 209 submarines to Indonesia for more than US$1 billion.
Is Taiwan dependent on assistance from abroad if it wants to build its own submarines? Not necessarily. Iran and North Korea offer a case in point. In December 2007, Iran completed the Ghadir-class midget submarine, followed by a second-generation 500-tonne Nahang-class submarine in August 2010, despite the imposition of a comprehensive arms embargo.
When the 1,500-tonne South Korean corvette-class Cheonan was sunk near Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea on March 26, 2010, by what is claimed to have been a CHT-O2D torpedo from a North Korean-made 130 tonne Yono-class submarine, many were surprised by the “success” of asymmetrical warfare.
One has to be very careful when individuals in the military, especially those in senior policymaking positions, employ the cunning and underhandedness usually associated with politicians.
Senior brass make the decisions, staff officers provide advice and support and are responsible for ensuring the necessary conditions are in place to ensure those decisions can be executed. High ranking officers make sure they are implemented.
There have been few studies over the past 10 years or so into whether decisions made by senior policymakers have resulted in delays or errors in national defense matters. However, if high-ranking officers are unable to make decisions or lack the courage to take responsibility for them, how then are they different to staff officers? We might just as well give up and disarm.
Wang Jyh-perng is an associate research fellow at the Association for Managing Defense and Strategies.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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