Taiwan’s first indigenous defense submarine prototype, the Hai Kun (SS-711), is to be launched tomorrow and undergo underwater testing next month. It is a major breakthrough in upgrading the nation’s self-defense capabilities, and would make it more difficult for China to blockade Taiwan.
Facing Beijing’s escalating military threats and ambitions of expanding across the Taiwan Strait, a domestically developed submarine was first proposed in the 1990s under then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). The Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) program was formally initiated in 2016, as President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office, with the aim of creating a fleet of eight domestically developed submarines.
The first indigenous submarine prototype, with a price tag of NT$1.54 billion (US$47.78 million), will make its first public appearance on Thursday. It is to be delivered to the navy next year, while three more indigenous submarines are to be produced by 2025 and another four by 2027.
The vessels are to complement two Dutch-made submarines Taiwan acquired in the 1980s. They are mainly to thwart the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) efforts to encircle Taiwan during an invasion or blockade, the convener of the IDS program, Admiral Huang Shu-kuang (黃曙光), has said. If China posted ships in the Pacific before attacking, the submarines would be Taiwan’s “lifeline,” keeping ports along the east coast open for supplies and international aid.
The new submarines highlight several milestones in Taiwan’s self-defense efforts and interactions with international partners. First, despite China’s attempts to diplomatically isolate Taiwan and prevent foreign companies from aiding the nation in its defense efforts, Taiwan drew upon technology, equipment and expertise from several foreign countries in developing its indigenous submarines. The first submarine is designed to be diesel-electric-powered and equipped with MK-48 heavyweight torpedoes made by US-based Lockheed Martin Corp, and includes some major parts from the UK. The next models are to have more capacity for anti-ship missiles.
Second, the production of indigenous warships demonstrates an upgrade in Taiwan’s shipbuilding industry and national defense production chains. With the cooperation of more than 100 public and private sector entities, the new submarines would cost less to make, but have more advanced functions. Taiwan could explore international markets and resume its reputation as a leading ship-producing nation.
Furthermore, the new submarine fleet would give Taiwan a more crucial role in the defense of the first island chain, making it more difficult for the PLA Navy to project power into the Pacific.
Taiwan’s new submarines could guard an area from Yilan County’s Suao Township (蘇澳) to Okinawa’s Yonaguni Island, assisting Japan in its efforts to defend Miyako Island and impeding China from entering the Pacific and operating against the US military. Taiwanese ships could also help monitor the Bashi Channel and Balintang Channel, to deny the PLA Navy access to the Philippine Sea and South China sea.
Most importantly, the production of locally developed submarines demonstrates Taiwan’s determination to defend itself and achieve national defense independence. Earlier this month, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said that if China tries to attack Taiwan, it would be “a grave strategic mistake,” as it would be “a very, very high bar” and “the most complex of all operations to do.” A Pentagon official on Tuesday last week said that a Chinese blockade of Taiwan would be “a monster risk” for Beijing and likely to fail.
Taiwan has significantly advanced its crucial asymmetric warfare capabilities with the IDS program. The country is on the right path to make any attempt to attack or blockade Taiwan a much more risky and costly mistake for Beijing.
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