The military has proposed a NT$400 million (US$12.35 million) program to upgrade the nation’s two aging Dutch-made Zwaardvis-class submarines, in which the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology would supervise the “life extension program” (LEP) that would be contracted out to foreign defense companies.
According to sources in the navy, the two submarines have been in service for nearly 30 years and are still seaworthy and capable of carrying out maritime patrol missions, but their electronics and weapons systems are obsolete in terms of operational consistency and reliability.
The two diesel-powered, 2,660-tonne submarines, Hai Lung (海龍, sea dragon) and Hai Hu (海虎, sea tiger), entered service in the navy in 1987 and 1988 respectively.
As most parts for the vessels are no longer in production and suitable replacements cannot be found, it is difficult to maintain and repair the submarines, naval officials said, adding that a large-scale upgrade program is needed to enhance their operational capabilities and to extend their service lives.
Plans for upgrades were also made necessary by president-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) indigenous defense submarine project to enable the domestic production of eight attack submarines, under which the first vessel would not be commissioned until 2025.
Ministry of National Defense officials have expressed apprehensiveness over the number of variables and uncertainties involved in the successful development of a domestically produced submarine, saying the planned timeline might not be fulfilled and that it would be best to upgrade the two aging vessels, Taiwan’s main underwater fighting force, before the launch of new submarines.
The institute, designated as the main contractor for the two-year program that is to run from this month until March 2018, is to invite tender offers from foreign defense companies that have the technical expertise to integrate weapons and operational systems into the submarines.
The program is divided into three main components: enhancing equipment and systems for electronic warfare; improving combat capabilities; and upgrading weapons systems, including the ability to use US-made long-range Mark 48 Advanced Capability torpedoes.
According to a report in Defense News yesterday, contracts for the program’s design work were last month awarded to two unidentified European marine engineering firms, with the institute’s Ship and Ocean Industries Research and Development Center to play a significant role as a subcontractor.
Design work is to take about two years, with actual modification and installation work to begin in 2018 and be completed by 2020, the report said.
Mark Stokes, Project 2049 Institute executive director and a former Pentagon official, said that the US would provide technical assistance for the program, adding: “Help on the LEP should be a positive indicator of US support for Taiwan designing, developing and manufacturing new diesel-electric submarines. Better late than never.”
Additional reporting by Jason Pan
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