Taiwanese President-Elect Calls for Seven Submarines to be Produced “All at Once”

Making the Call

Taiwanese Presidential-elect William Lai wants to produce seven submarines simultaneously rather than in batches after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen left the decision up to him following an inspection of the newly produced Narwhal.

The duo also paid a subsequent visit to the commission ceremony of the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) Yunlin frigate in early March. Their attendance marked the first time a president and vice president attended a commissioning ceremony for a Taiwanese vessel.

Later the same day, another meeting was held where the president and vice president met with Admiral Huang Shu-Kuang, chief of the general staff and head of the Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) program, who was also joined by representatives from local shipbuilding industries. They proposed plans for production in batches, such as “2+3+2” or “3+2+2,” when Lai reportedly stated: “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it all at once.”

Photo of President Tsai Ing-wen and Vice President Lai Ching-te. Source: Taiwan Presidential Office via AP

This opens the door for mass production of submarines, bolstering the naval capabilities of Taiwan. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has approved this, saying it is in the “interests of national security.”

Taiwan’s Current Fleet

Taiwan’s Navy, also known as the Republic of China Navy, operates several ships, such as four destroyers, eighteen frigates, four submarines, twelve corvettes, and forty-two missile boats. In the past, most of their fleet was purchased from other nations and consisted of second-hand vessels, some of which were from the Second World War. They often lacked modern equipment when acquired, and the vessels would need to be modified to carry the modern systems.

Starting in the 1990’s, Taiwan began to produce more equipment domestically, building foreign designs under license, and upgrading some of their current in-service ships.

Their current fleet of submarines is made up of two Hai Shih-class diesel electric submarines, the ROCS Hai shih (SS-791) and ROCS Hai pao (SS-792), produced in the 1940s and upgraded via the Great Under Water Propulsion Power Program (GUPPY II), both acquired in 1973.

The ROCS Hai Lung and ROCS Hai Hu submarines docked in Kaohsiung. Source: Reuters via Tyrone Siu

However, Taiwan’s most modern diesel electric submarines are two Hai Lung-class ROCS Hai lung (SS-793) and the ROCS Hai hu (SS-794), acquired from the Netherlands in the 1980s.

Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS)

Taiwan recently began testing the first submarine, the ROCS Hai kun, of the IDS program in late February 2024. The submarine is 229 feet long (70 meters), has a test depth of 1,150–1,380 feet (350–420 meters), and will be armed with Mk48 Mod 6 torpedoes and UGM-84L Harpoon missiles. The Hai kun will also be powered by electric diesel engines, utilize an ion battery, and displace around 2,500 tons.

Photo of Indigenous Designed Submarine/Hai kun-class with banners attached. Source: ROCN

Some speculate that this series is based on the Netherlands’ Zwaardvis-class submarines, of which Taiwan currently operates two, or is based on design elements from United States, Japanese, and Dutch submarines. 

The IDS is built by CSBC Corporation and plans to construct eight vessels. These will likely replace the current aging fleet of the four in-service submarines. Taiwan claims all the submarines will be “ready by 2025.”

Analysis

The statement “all at once” carries some urgency for a few reasons. The need for Taiwan to bolster its naval capabilities is necessary amid increased tension in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, as it faces potential threats. The newly produced submarines will also better suit the needs of Taiwan’s Navy since it currently has negligible underwater warfare capability. 

The decision to produce equipment domestically also has the advantage of lessening Taiwan’s dependence on foreign aid. Taiwan can continue to maintain and finish production of submarines and other equipment if China enacts a blockade around the island. 

The ability to sink as many amphibious, converted roll-on roll-off vessels, and other cargo ships as they sail across the strait is important since it would allow Taiwan to destroy as much shipping as possible. The island would also decrease the number of troops landing on the sites during any landing operation since they would have reduced logistical capacity to do so. The Hai kun-class submarines would also allow Taiwan to defend its land and waters more effectively. 

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Evan Berridge
Evan Berridge
Aspiring writer and analyst of mostly Indo-Pacific affairs, began in January 2024.
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