Some US experts say the Ministry of National Defense is not asking for enough money to pay for the design phase of the nation’s indigenous submarine project.
“The submarine business is expensive,” US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said.
Earlier this week, the ministry submitted a budget proposal of NT$2.9 billion (US$88.5 million) to the Legislative Yuan to cover the four-year design program.
The construction phase will be a second budget.
“It’s best compared to the US program that remains wrapped in cobwebs at the Department of State,” Hammond-Chambers said.
According to the US-Taiwan Business Council Web site, in April 2001, then-US president George W Bush committed to assisting Taiwan in procuring eight diesel-electric submarines.
While the US has not built diesel-electric submarines since the 1950s, its systems integrated abilities, combat systems and weapons are all world class, the Web site says.
The design for the proposed new submarines was envisioned as coming from Europe, but due to “political infighting in Taiwan through the middle part of the last decade no progress was made on procuring the submarines and the possible program sat dormant.”
If that program had gone forward, the US estimated that the three-year design program would cost about US$360 million.
The ministry is asking for about one-quarter of that amount.
Hammond-Chambers said that the heavy constraints President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government places on defense spending ensure that the ministry is often under-resourced.
“Those countries in the world that produce diesel-electric submarines invest large sums of money in research and development and the purchase price is approximately US$500 million per submarine on the global market,” he said, adding that Sweden set a budget of US$174 million to design the A-26, their next generation submarine.
“The Swedes are in the business and make some of the world’s best submarines,” he said.
Hammond-Chambers said the US$89 million that Taiwan is proposing to spend on the design phase of its indigenous submarines “seems a very low sum when Taiwan has no prior experience in building submarines.”
“The ministry needs the resources to be successful. That’s a political issue,” he said.
Two former officials with the US Department of Defense also told the Taipei Times that the US$89 million figure was low.
They asked not to be quoted by name because they had not seen the details of the ministry proposal.
However, Richard Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center and a highly respected arms expert, said US$89 million was not an unrealistic budget at “this very early stage in the acquisition process which largely involves computer-based engineering designs.”
He said that a decade ago, some US proposals for a US-produced conventional submarine were close to US$1 billion per submarine.
“This figure would also have included the building of a production capacity for conventional submarines that the US still does not have today,” Fisher said. “In contrast, China is able to sell its in-production Yuan class conventional submarine for about US$300 million each.”
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