Taiwan Submarine Capabilities

The Taiwanese Navy currently operates two Hai Lung-class (improved Dutch Zwaardvis-design) submarines - the Hai Lung (Sea Dragon) 793 and Hai Hu (Sea Tiger) 794 - which were acquired from the Netherlands and commissioned in 1987 and 1988 respectively. Two former U.S. Navy Guppy II-class vessels which were delivered in 1973 - the Hai Shih and Hai Bao - are also still in service, but only for training purposes. [1] All of Taiwan's submarines operate out of Tsoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung. Taipei is interested in acquiring additional vessels but has been unsuccessful as a result of the political pressure that has been placed on potential exporters by mainland China, as well as domestic concerns about cost.

Submarine Tables for Taiwan

In addition to cross-strait tensions over the status of Taiwan, Taipei is also involved in various territorial disputes concerning the Spratly, Paracel, and Senkaku Islands. The Spratly Islands dispute involves Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei. The Paracel Islands are claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, but occupied by China, while the Senkaku Islands (Senkaku-shoto/Diaoyu Tai) are occupied by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan.

Taiwan's submarines are aimed at providing a capability to deter Chinese naval blockades and to ensure that its sea lanes remain open, thus protecting the trade on which the island depends. [2] In addition, Taiwan's submarines could be used to block Chinese ports but are unlikely to be capable of countering Beijing's superior submarine fleet. [3]

Since the acquisition of the two Hai Lung vessels in the 1980s, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense has been exploring ways to procure new diesel submarines. This has, however, proved difficult as manufacturing countries are concerned about antagonizing China after it came close to severing relations with the Netherlands following the previous sale. [4] In April 2001, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush offered Taiwan a substantial arms package which included eight diesel-electric submarines. [5] However, the United States has not produced diesel versions since the 1950s and does not possess any current designs. Initially, the Bush Administration believed that European producers such as Germany's HDW or the Netherlands' RDM would provide a U.S. shipyard with a design, but they refused to do so for fear of antagonizing Beijing. [6] In 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense suggested that Taiwan consider buying refurbished submarines. The Italian Ministry of Defense reportedly agreed to sell four Sauro-class boats, as well as an additional four following their decommissioning by the Italian Navy. But Taiwan rejected this offer, preferring instead to acquire new submarines. [7] In late 2004 the United States stated that it was considering building the submarines for Taiwan from scratch. The refurbishment of the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi was the most likely option for U.S.-based production. [8] The Obama Administration announced a new arms package for Taiwan in January 2010, but the deal did not include the eight diesel-electric submarines that were offered by George W. Bush in 2001. [9]

China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC)

Given the difficulty of procuring foreign submarines, Taiwan has also been exploring the possibility of building submarines. Taiwan's China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC) constructed a "generic" submarine segment beginning in 2001 as part of a secret program called the Hidden Dragon Project. [10] Taiwan also possesses a crude submarine design that is partially based on the Norwegian Ula-class and Argentine Santa Cruz-class (TR 1700). [11] The latter designs may have been obtained via a Dutch intermediary, which bought the material kits that were supplied to Argentina as scrap metal in 1996. [12] It is unclear how the Ula-class designs were obtained or re-created. [13] Taiwan also acquired 80 percent of the blueprints for its Hai Lung-class (Improved Zwaardvis-design) submarines, which it purchased from the Netherlands. [14]

A cross-ministry task force found in 2005 that Taiwan's China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC) "almost" had the capability to build submarines, but noted that "provision of submarine blueprints and submarine weapons systems [from the United States] are two prerequisites." [15] In early 2012, news reports stated that Taiwan would pursue domestic development of a 1,000 to 1,500 ton submarine beginning in 2013, and Taiwanese Navy officials briefed legislators from both parties and requested a budget for proceeding with the plan. [16] An official from the Defense Ministry reiterated the government's support for such a program, but acknowledged that Taiwan would still need some level of support from abroad. [17] The CSBC Chairman confirmed this assessment, expressing confidence that the company could build the submarines, but not the weapons systems. [18]

[1] Stephen Saunders, Jane's Fighting Ships 2002-2003 (Coulsdon: Jane's Information Group, 2003); Hsu Shao-hsuan, "Submarine Situation Dire: Analyst," The Taipei Times, 17 January 2011, www.taipeitimes.com.
[2] Anthony Leung, "The Fortress Above the Straits: Taiwan's Defence Revisited," Military Technology, April 2003, Vol. 27, No. 4, pp. 35, in ProQuest Information and Learning Company, proquest.umi.com.
[3] Hong Che-cheng, Tai-Wan Jih-Pao, 11 November 2003; in "Defense Minister Tang on Taiwan's defense capability, submarine purchase," FBIS Document CPP20031112000124.
[4] John Pomfret and Philip Pan, "U.S. Hits Obstacles in Helping Taiwan Guard Against China," Washington Post, 30 October 2003, p. 1; in ProQuest Information and Learning Company, proquest.umi.com.
[5] "Wade Boese, "Bush Approves Major Arms Deal to Taiwan, Defers to Aegis Sale," Arms Control Association, May 2001, www.armscontrol.org.
[6] Anton La Guardia and Hannah Cleaver, "Europeans Vow to Stop America Selling Submarines," The Daily Telegraph, 26 April 2001, in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, www.lexisnexis.com.
[7] J. Michael Cole, "Taiwan Giving Up on U.S. Subs, Eyeing Local Plan: Analyst," Taipei Times, 15 December 2011, www.taipeitimes.com; Wendell Minnick, "Submarine Decisions Show Lack of Creativity," Taipei Times, 16 October 2004, in Taiwan Security Research Website, taiwansecurity.org.
[8] Sharon Behn, "U.S. to Build 8 Subs in Deal with Taiwan," Washington Times, 29 September 2004, in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, www.lexis-nexis.com.
[9] Michael Ashby and Jeff Abramson, "U.S.-Taiwan Arms Deal Angers China," Arms Control Today, March 2010.
[10] "Submarine Forces, Taiwan," Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems, 16 June 2011.
[11] "Submarine Forces, Taiwan," Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems, 16 June 2011.
[12] Daniel Santoro, "Clarin," 22 January 1996; in "Uncompleted Argentine submarines sold as spare parts," FBIS Document PY2501193396.
[13] "ULA-Klasse," Thyssen-Nordseewerke, www.thyssen-nordseewerke.de.
[14] Mure Dickie and Richard McGregor, "Problems surface over submarines pledged for Taiwan," Financial Times, 16 July 2002, in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, web.lexis-nexis.com.
[15] Rich Chang, "Agencies at Odds over Submarines," Taipei Times, 15 April 2005, www.taipeitimes.com.
[16] J. Michael Cole, "Navy to Embark on Submarine Program," Taipei Times, 21 February 2012, www.taipeitimes.com.
[17] "Taiwan May Build Its Own Submarines: Official," Agence France Presse, 29 March 2012, in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, www.lexisnexis.com.
[18] "Defense Ministry Lambasted over Submarine Plans," Taipei Times, 30 March 2012, www.taipeitimes.com.

July 23, 2013
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The submarine proliferation resource collection is designed to highlight global trends in the sale and acquisition of diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines. Each profile consists of information on capabilities, imports and exports.


This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2019.