Taiwan has broken ground on the shipyard that could build the country’s first new submarines in nearly 40 years. But the island state’s defense minister signaled uncertainty about whether, and how fast, the navy might actually get new undersea boats.
“We are far behind” in submarine warfare, Defense Minister Michael Tsai said at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. in September 2019. “We need technical support from the United States, Japan and other countries.”
Facing a de facto embargo from the major submarine-builders in Europe, the government in Taipei in the early 2000s negotiated with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to buy new diesel-powered subs from the United States.
But China pressed the United States not to provide the subs. And besides, U.S. companies haven’t built diesel boats in decades. The 2000s deal “fell apart,” reporter John Grady wrote at the news website of the U.S. Naval Institute.
Now Taiwan has no choice but to build its own undersea vessels. But it needs help with certain key technologies including torpedo systems and combat integration, Grady explained, citing Seth Cropsey, a naval affairs analyst at Hudson.
If Taipei fully funds the ambitious project and nothing happens to disrupt the flow of foreign technologies that the island country will rely upon as it establishes its own sub-building industry, the Taiwanese navy could possess its first new undersea boat as early as 2026.
The new diesel-electric submarines would replace Taiwan’s four very old, existing subs, only two of which possess any meaningful combat capability. With new subs, Taiwan could seriously complicate any attempt by China to stage an amphibious invasion of the island.