During World War II, German U-boats almost succeeded in bringing Britain to its knees. US Navy submarines saw their greatest success against Japan with the sinking of more than 500 vessels in the Taiwan Strait. The complete blockade of Japan with US submarines, US Navy aircraft and an aerial mining program destabilized Japan’s economy and created severe shortages of food, materials for weapons production and fuel.
On April 2, 1982, Argentine forces used submarines to invade the Falkland Islands, a British territory, sparking one of the largest conflicts since World War II. In response to Argentine aggression, the British government quickly assembled a task force to engage the Argentine Navy.
During the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995 and 1996, Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) submarines forced the US Seventh fleet to retreat, while Taiwan’s Chien Lung-class submarines drove away the PLAN from waters around Taiwan.
These incidents underscore the importance of submarines, establishing them as the dominant weapon of war at sea, and anti-submarine warfare is at the heart of naval strategy worldwide.
Situated at the midpoint of the first island chain, Taiwan occupies a critical strategic position that oversees all waterways in East Asia, including the Taiwan Strait. After years of waiting, its domestically built Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) is to be launched today. There are only a handful of states capable of designing and building their own submarines: China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden, the UK and the US.
Since the 1960s, Taiwan has purchased Italian SX-404-class midget submarines, US-built Guppy II-class submarines and Chien Lung-class submarines made by the Netherlands.
The closest opportunity Taiwan had to procure more submarines was during the administration of former US president George W. Bush, who approved the sale of eight diesel-electric submarines. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers stalled the budget review 69 times, and former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) opposed submarine procurement.
Fortunately, that did not stop Admiral Chen Yung-kang (陳永康) and others from pushing for the IDS program, and the turning point finally came when President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in 2016. Giving her full support to the IDS program, Tsai promoted Admiral Huang Shu-kuang (黃曙光) to navy commander in 2016. The budget for the first submarine, codenamed the Haichang Project, was NT$49.3 billion (US$1.53 billion).
Taiwan’s first IDS prototype, the Hai Kun (SS-711), is to undergo a harbor acceptance test at local shipbuilder CSBC Corp’s shipyard in Kaohsiung after it is launched in a ceremony presided over by Tsai today.
Thanks to the navy officers’ dedication, Tsai’s wholehearted support, the US’ “red zone” technologies and the private sectors’ collective efforts to evade Chinese espionage, Taiwan was finally able to acquire the technologies and components needed to design and build its own submarines.
Ever since the launch of the program, suppliers have stepped on China’s toes and been put under pressure. In the public sphere, the program was condemned and vilified by pro-China supporters and media outlets.
Submarines are the most crucial weapon to defend Taiwan. In times of war, they could deny the PLAN access to the Philippine Sea and South China Sea. Taiwanese should continue to voice their support for the president and legislators who have pulled out all the stops to implement the program.
It is also with the help of many other nameless heroes that Taiwan is finally able to carry out this feat. The production of locally developed submarines not only demonstrates Taiwan’s determination to defend itself and achieve national defense independence, it also marks a new milestone for the nation’s shipbuilding industry.
Chu-Ke Feng-yun is a military blogger.
Translated by Rita Wang
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