Taiwan Unveils Landmark Domestic Submarine, Bolsters Defense Capability
Taiwan unveils landmark domestic submarine, bolsters defense capabilityas they celebrate a historic achievement. This milestone was applauded by the leader of the island democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen, as a noteworthy step forward in enhancing Taiwan's military capabilities, particularly in light of the increasing threat posed by Beijing.
President Tsai Ing-wen led a ceremony held at the submarine's shipyard located in the southern city of Kaohsiung. During the event, the diesel-electric vessel was formally christened "Narwhal" in English and "Hai Kun" in Mandarin, a name loosely translated as "sea monster."
The submarine is an important realization of our concrete commitment in defending our country. It is also important equipment for our naval forces in developing asymmetric warfare strategies. In the past, many people thought building an indigenous submarine would be an impossible task. But we have made it.- President Tsai Ing-wen
The ceremony held special significance for President Tsai, as it marked a personal milestone tied to her flagship defense policy initiated shortly after she assumed office in 2016. This policy aimed to construct Taiwan's first domestically produced submarine.
Taiwanese defense leaders have high hopes that these submarines will significantly bolster their defenses against a potential invasion from China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and has escalated its provocative actions in recent years.
While journalists were granted access to the submarine's shipyard for a tour, they were restricted from taking close-up photographs due to security concerns. Specifics about the submarine's size and capabilities were also not disclosed during the ceremony. Notable attendees included Sandra Oudkirk, the de facto ambassador to Taiwan from Washington, as well as representatives from the Japanese and South Korean missions in Taipei.
President Tsai emphasized that the indigenous submarine project remained "a top priority" for her administration. With the addition of "Narwhal," Taiwan is set to possess a total of three submarines by 2025, alongside two Dutch-made submarines that were initially commissioned in the 1980s. Taiwan has previously announced plans to construct a total of eight indigenous submarines.
During a monthly press briefing on Thursday, China's Defense Ministry used a common Chinese idiom to describe the new submarine, likening it to "a mantis trying to stop a chariot."
During an internal briefing attended by CNN last week, Admiral Huang Shu-kuang, an advisor to Taiwan's National Security Council and a key figure in the development of indigenous submarines, emphasized the vital role of the new submarine fleet in deterring Beijing from potentially imposing a naval blockade on the island.
While the Taiwan Strait may pose operational challenges for submarines due to its shallow waters, Admiral Huang noted that these vessels could prove highly effective when deployed to target Chinese warships navigating the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines, as well as the waters between Taiwan and the westernmost islands of Japan.
China's access to the Pacific Ocean is constrained by the geographical barrier of the first island chain, encompassing Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Consequently, its naval forces would be compelled to pass through these strategically significant points in order to gain access to the broader expanse of the ocean.
Huang claimed that Taiwan could effectively curtail China's military power projection by deploying its submarines in these areas. In the event of a military confrontation, Huang explained, the Chinese navy would undoubtedly seek to access the waters east of Taiwan in an effort to encircle Taiwan and restrict the ability of the United States to intervene effectively.
He noted that submarines, operating stealthily beneath the waves and difficult to detect, would have a distinct advantage in approaching Chinese aircraft carriers for potential offensive actions. This assessment was echoed by Collin Koh, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, who emphasized that the new submarine fleet would enable Taiwan to establish a "more credible second-strike capability."
China has a lot of focus on countering what they see as potential US military intervention, and it has planned for a major naval engagement with the US outside the first island chain, around the Philippine Sea. If the Taiwanese want to contribute to that, then one way to do that is to bottle up the PLA Navy within the first island chain, don’t allow it come out and help the US military intervention become successful.- Collin Koh
Admiral Huang also revealed that the submarines have been designed with the capacity to carry US-made MK-48 torpedoes, which can be employed to engage surface ships.
Taiwan has increasingly prioritized a policy of achieving self-sufficiency in defense, leading the island to intensify its domestic weapons development efforts. This strategic shift aims to modernize its armed forces and reduce its reliance on foreign procurement.
When President Tsai assumed office, Taiwan faced challenges in persuading the United States and European nations to provide significant military hardware, a situation that has evolved in recent years. The mounting diplomatic, economic, and military pressure from Beijing, coupled with support from both President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, has resulted in numerous substantial military sales to Taiwan.
Nonetheless, Taiwan's indigenous military procurement program remains a cornerstone of its defense strategy, especially in the realm of systems such as anti-ship missiles, crucial for defending against a potential invasion.
In March, a Taiwanese state-owned military weapons developer unveiled five new types of domestically produced military drones with surveillance and aerial attack capabilities. Taiwan's achievement in constructing its inaugural submarine could help assuage concerns regarding its military readiness, especially in the context of Beijing's escalating territorial assertions over the democratic island of 23.5 million inhabitants.
China's ruling Communist Party regards Taiwan as an integral part of its territory, despite never having exercised control over it. Beijing has consistently asserted that Taiwan must be "reunified" with the Chinese mainland, even if it requires the use of force, while the Taiwanese authorities vehemently reject China's territorial claims. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China's most assertive leader in recent memory, Beijing has intensified its pressure on Taiwan.
In recent years, Chinese fighter jets, bombers, and surveillance aircraft have significantly increased the frequency of their sorties in the vicinity of the island. Furthermore, Chinese warships have been crossing the unofficial Median Line, which runs down the Taiwan Strait, with growing regularity. In the previous summer, China's military conducted extensive exercises in protest of a visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
During the internal briefing, Admiral Huang recounted Taiwan's initial attempts to establish a new submarine fleet, dating back to when former President Lee Teng-hui initiated a task force in 1995. However, these efforts encountered challenges as the United States was reluctant to sell submarines to Taiwan.
The formal commencement of the project occurred in 2016, following President Tsai's assumption of office. Admiral Huang highlighted that the process of building Taiwan's inaugural submarine had been exceptionally demanding due to constraints in the budget, delays stemming from a global chip shortage, and concerns regarding potential Chinese espionage.
The project engaged a total of 1,003 Taiwanese personnel, primarily focused on designing the submarine's blueprint. These personnel were subject to rigorous monitoring by a military security division to safeguard against any leaks of sensitive information.
Admiral Huang disclosed that he was allocated a budget of $1.54 billion (NT$49.36 billion) for constructing the initial vessel, with approximately 60% of the budget allocated for acquiring overseas materials and military equipment. However, he anticipated a reduction in this percentage in the future as Taiwan's domestic submarine shipbuilding industry matures.
While Admiral Huang did not specify the countries granting export permits to Taiwan, he did mention that he had engaged with senior military leaders in the US Pacific Fleet, Japan, South Korea, and India. Following the submarine's unveiling, it is scheduled for sea trials next month, with plans for it to become operational in the coming year.