A war with China seems inevitable for Taiwan at some point given that President Xi Jinping has indicated that he would use military force to annex the island nation if needed. Submarines will be an important weapon in such a war. While Taiwan has a respectable military, it dwarfs in comparison to the Chinese. But the country bets on military assistance from allies like the U.S. and Japan should a conflict occur. One area that makes Taiwan extremely vulnerable to Chinese assault is a lack of submarines.
The submarine problem
“Taiwan’s submarine deficit is the byproduct of a postwar strategic culture in which Taipei saw itself as a major regional power, compensating for the PLA’s numerical advantage with superior training and equipment. But after decades of breakneck Chinese military modernization coupled with creeping Taiwanese military stagnation, Taiwan’s surface navy is no position to contest the South China Sea in any kind of pitched conflict with the People’s Liberation Army Navy,” according to National Interest.
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At present, Taiwan possesses a couple of Dutch-manufactured Hai Lung submarines the country procured back in the eighties and a U.S. Tench class submarine that is expected to end service by this year-end. The Dutch submarines are armed with 48 torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. But since they are about three decades old, the weapons systems could have mechanical problems that might negatively affect them during a conflict. The U.S. submarine was built in the WWII era and Taiwan uses it solely for training purposes, knowing full well that it would not survive the demands of modern battles.
This is obviously not good enough to counter China, which is rapidly building up its naval force. The only way Taiwan can fight against China is through Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) tactics. By building up its submarine fleet, Taiwan will be able to hit at China’s warships and inflict massive damage to Beijing’s naval strategies. Sink a few ships and China will have no option but to abandon any sea-based attack plans against Taiwan.
Earlier this year, Taiwan revealed that it was developing its own indigenous submarine. To be launched in 2024, it will have an X-shaped stern that closely matches Japan’s Soryu class submarines. “Our first indigenous defense submarine is expected to be launched 60 months from now, and delivery will be completed in 78 months,” Cheng Wen-lon, chairman of the Taiwanese company CSBC Shipbuilding, said in a statement (South China Morning Post).
Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump gave a boost to Taiwan’s submarine development project by allowing American companies to provide necessary tech for the project. Several U.S. firms have already started supplying CSBC with the technology required to build modern, top-of-the-range submarines. This has irked Beijing, which is uncomfortable with Taiwan’s growing naval prowess. “China is firmly opposed to any country selling arms to Taiwan and having any form of military links with Taiwan,” Hua Chunying, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement (Taiwan News).
In May, it was reported that CSBC had finished construction of a heavy wharf that has a capacity to load 30 metric tons per square meter. By next year, the company expects to start building submarines. Taiwan is aiming to build eight submarines through CSBC. The company is receiving technological assistance from the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology and the military.