After waiting on the U.S. to make good on plans to develop a diesel electric attack submarine (SSK) for almost 15 years, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence announced it was kicking off its own domestic attack submarine construction program this week, the agency told Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan.
Defense officials told the legislative body preparation work would begin this year starting with a modest $315,000 start into a $94.46 million four-year effort, beginning in earnest in 2016.
The planned result would be around four SSKs to replace the island’s current boats — two Dutch-built, 1980s vintage 2,600-ton Hai-lang-class SSKs and two World War II era U.S. Guppy-class boats used for training.
“At present the navy’s demand is submarines ranging from 1,200-3,000 tons,” Vice Adm. Hsiao Wei-min with the Republic of China Navy (RoCN) told the legislator on Monday.
The new boats are a long awaited hedge against the expansion of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the looming threat of an amphibious assault from the mainland.
“After Taiwan has lost air and sea control, it’s the subs that will still be able to attack groups of amphibious landing aircraft,” Wang Jyh-perng, RoCN reserve captain told the Asia Times in 2011.
In 2001, the Bush administration promised Taiwan eight U.S.-built SSKs but the boats never materialized for several reasons.
A MND spokesman told Jane’s in October, “that Taiwan would continue to lobby the United States for assistance with a submarine purchase, although the absence of any U.S. experience in conventionally powered submarines of the size and class that Taiwan is seeking suggests it is unlikely to get much in the way of support.”
SSKs serve best as a costal defense platform and the U.S. submarine force almost exclusively operates far from American shores.
With rare exception, the U.S. naval submarine industrial base has built only nuclear submarines (SSN) since the 1960s. USNI News also understands there are elements in the U.S. Navy reluctant to stray from the SSN model.
Taiwan’s other submarine options are non-existent.
Other countries have been fearful of drawing the ire of mainland China by supplying Taiwan with submarines, or even design help.
In November, the Chinese foreign ministry reiterated its position on foreign design aid to the ROCN following the announcement of U.S. and Italian companies in developing a domestic mine countermeasures (MCM) ship.
“We ask relevant countries to respect China’s core interests, adhere to the one-China principle, neither sell arms to Taiwan in any form nor assist Taiwan in developing its military equipment, and take concrete actions to support the peaceful development of cross-strait relations and peaceful reunification of China,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.
Taiwan is in the midst of naval capabilities refresh. In addition to the submarine program, it plans to acquire four U.S. Oliver Hazard Perry frigates and has recently launched the first of a planned class of missile frigates.