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, 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.
According to Sam LaGrone, USNI Online Editor at the U.S. Naval Institute, the planned result would be around four SSKs to replace the island’s current boats – 2 Dutch-built, 1980s vintage 2,600-ton Hai-lang-class SSKs and 2 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 submarines that will still be able to attack groups of amphibious landing aircraft», Wang Jyh-perng, RoCN reserve captain told the Asia Times.
As is known, in 2001, the Bush administration promised Taiwan 8 U.S.-built SSKs but the boats never materialized for several reasons. With rare exception, the U.S. naval submarine industrial base has built only nuclear submarines (SSN) since the 1960s. Moreover, there are elements in the U.S. Navy are also reportedly 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. By the way, in November, 2014 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 now in the midst of naval capabilities refresh. In addition to the new SSK submarine program, it plans to acquire four U.S. Oliver Hazard Perry frigates – the USS Taylor (FFG-50), USS Gary (FFG-51), USS Carr (FFG-52) and USS Elrod (FFG-55) – and has recently launched the first of a planned class of missile frigates (USS Taylor).