August 5, 2015

Taiwan's Replacement Submarine Hopes. US won't help.

Two of Taiwan's four submarines were launched during WWII. Both are theoretically operational, but only safe for training - and probably only safe in a shallow harbour. One is Hai Shih (ex US Tench class that was GUPPY converted). The other is Hai Bao/Pao (SS-792) (ex US Balao class also GUPPY converted) (pictured above).

Cut away of  Taiwan's latest 2 submarines of the Hai Lung class, (also known as Chien Lung class)  commissioned in 1987-88 (Diagram courtesy Dutch Submarines . com)

Submarine Matters' article Netherlands Needs New Submarines Quickly has led to many comments below that article regarding Taiwan's needs. This is because the Netherlands supplied Taiwan with Taiwan's most recent two subs. These were of the Hai Lung class (pictured above) supplied to Taiwan and commissioned into the Taiwanese Navy way back in 1987-88.


Taiwan has sought newer submarines for decades. This has been complicated by Taiwan's reliance on the US - which does not build suitable conventional submarines (SSKs). US backing is needed in the face of China's ability to prevent any actual conventional submarine builder from helping Taiwan.

Conventional submarine builders  Germany, France, Spain, Japan and Sweden have been placed under Chinese political and economic pressure not to sell subs to Taiwan, not to help Taiwan build subs or even sell submarine components to Taiwan. The US would not allow Taiwan to buy Russian SSKs. Middle countries that have built subs under licence, like India, Australia and South Korea, have also been warned by China not to sell to Taiwan.

Chinese force aside China is a much larger and attractive a market for all products for all countries than Taiwan is. So there are many positive reasons why, for example, Germany will sell submarine engines to China and Sweden will sell AIP systems to China instead of Taiwan.

Taiwan's old anti-communist credentials are no longer considered important enough to gain sufficient cooperation from the US. This is a further complex situation where around one million Taiwanese happily trade with China or live in China. The US is also happily trading with communist Vietnam. China also underwrites or owns much of the US economy.

Some Taiwanese see a submarine project brokered by the US as a way to restore US political, military and economic support - in another sense restoring US recognition of Taiwan's right to exist.

The US especially, under the moderate Democrat Obama, is not anti-Chinese or anti-Communist enough to damage relations with China to the degree some in Taiwanese want. Taiwan may have to wait for another Republican hawk like George W. Bush (Jr) to enter office before the US might help. As the US 2016 election runup stands Hilary Clinton won't change Taiwan's sub situation and even if Republican Trump were elected, his personal business interests may well preference China over Taiwan. Are there any election eligible US Republican anti-Communists with a Presidential chance?

An additional problem is some Taiwanese want the US to broker a submarine deal in order that the US buys the subs first - in order that the US "sells' the subs to Taiwan for a highly US subsidized low price.

Another disincentive for the US is that the US Navy and submarine industry do not want to have any financial or project dealing with SSKs. For the US Navy this is because SSKs unit for unit are less capable than the US SSNs. For US industry the price/profit per SSN is much higher than for an SSK.

China's growing ASW capabilities, including China's undersea sensors and growing submarine numbers mean Taiwan will need ever more expensive, larger, more capable SSKs. If Taiwan replaced its 4 sub fleet one for one it may well need subs that are SSNs to constitute any kind of deterrent against China's rapidly growing SSN and SSK fleet.

The US won't give/sell SSNs to Taiwan. It is more reasonable that the US quietly assures Taiwan that  US SSNs will defend Taiwan - to a reasonable extent.


The following are useful:

Over the years Defense Industry Daily (DID) has compiled a longer and more detailed account of Taiwan's fruitless replacement submarine efforts - particularly Taiwan’s Force Modernization: The American SideJuly 21, 2015. Taiwan's submarine problems are best seen from a combined arms perspective including consideration of surface ships, naval airpower and land-based anti-shipping and anti-submarine missiles - particularly in the Taiwan Strait.

DID notes: [The Taiwanese] are even reportedly considering building their own boats from foreign designs. Australia’s experience suggests that this course may be fraught with peril, and Taiwan has a number of technology gaps to address: ship design technology, torpedoes, sonar, propulsion systems, combat systems, and submarine periscope lenses [to which could be added submarine steel]. 

Meanwhile puts up a range of "US will do it" options that are not in America's economic, political or strategic interests to do. indicates China's skill in building a Yuan sub force that makes for major strategic problems for Taiwan and the US to counter this force of July 22, 2015 describes how China is rapidly building its ASW strength - rendering Taiwan's replacement submarine efforts largely irrelevant.

Please connect with Submarine Matters Taiwan's Aging Submarine Force Limited by Mainland China of February 5, 2014 - you will notice little has changed.

So unless the US builds around 8 large SSKs in the US under a new Republican President, after 2016,  Taiwan is likely to wait forever for an effective submarine force.



Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
My take on this is that Taiwan and Russia should get together on Submarine Design and construction. I know Russia needs the cash and China wants Submarines. I think for Taiwan, they should look at buying into the Improved Kilo class Submarine, Lada class Submarine or Amur class Submarine. I can see Taiwan going for the Amur 1650 and the US underwrites the deal and helps Taiwan buy the Submarine for them. I think Russia can handle China because Russia knows that it can contain China in more ways than one. Even if China were to protest, Russia would still sell it cause to Russia it's all business and they need the cash.

A good example is that China operates Kilo class SSK's and now Vietnam Operates Kilo class SSK's. Taiwan should do the same and make a direct buy from Russia on the Kilo class SSK, Lada class SSK or Amur class SSK.

On one hand if Taiwan can get their hands on second hand submarines, that would be another option for them and their are plenty of 2nd hand submarines that are being retired and it can breathe some life into them.

Though in the end, I think the US should start forcing Taiwan to build their own submarines and they should take a page from Mossad by having Taiwan send their people out to places that build submarines. Learn all the skills and bring back the skill sets back to Taiwan. At the same time they should reverse engineer the Hai Lung-class submarine and start building their own copies of the Hai Lung-class submarine. I think they did get the Blueprints for them and they have the makings to build their own. They just need the US to provide technical advice on how to build them.

I know India is not on good terms with China and if India wanted to thumb their noses at China, they would consider selling their second hand submarines to Taiwan or even show Taiwan how to build submarines and pass on the skills and knowledge to them.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky

As only the US and Russia have the political and military power to resist Chinese pressure Taiwan buying Russian designed/built subs may be Taiwan's best chance. The US would not underwrite the deal. I agree Taiwan can buy direct from Russia at commercial prices.

Second hand subs for Taiwan would be inferior and would bring all the political problems of new purchases.

US doesn't want Taiwan to build subs as US knows Taiwan would rely on US in the build in many ways.

Only Russia and China have had the industrial base to reverse engineer very large weapons system like subs. Taiwan is not big enough.

It seems India would not help Taiwan against China unless China helped Pakistan with subs against India.



Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
I think for Taiwan, Russia is their only option because Russia can put the hurt on China and can even resist chinese pressure. For Taiwan, I think they can get an Improve Kilo class SSK, Lada class SSK or Amur class SSK and add American weapons and systems. Which I think the US should pressure Taiwan to make a deal with Russia on SSK Submarines.

MHalblaub said...

Oh my good,
it is 2015. Taiwan should get up its @$$ and develop its own submarine. No diesel engine, no AIP just some batteries of what kind ever. This is far enough to defend an island. No big fat 21'' torpedoes even a smaller kind would do it. A submarine with 12 smaller torpedoes without reloads. A rather small crew because there is no diesel engine to maintain.

The only thing Taiwan needs are good torpedoes. Therefore Taiwan needs good acoustic sensors. This is brainware Taiwan could produce. Try and test the torpedoes. That's it. A submarine to deliver the payload is a 19th century gimmick.


Nicky said...

I know, it's 2015 and taiwan should get off it's @$$ and make the deal with Russia on improved Kilo class SSK, Lada or Amur class SSK.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky [at August 6, 2015 at 2:35 PM and August 9, 2015 at 2:06 AM]

I really think Russia values relations with China (including China buying Russian gas) more highly than Russia committing to a problematic sale of subs to Taiwan. US is too wise to get involved in helping sell Putin's subs to Taiwan.

Taiwan's only hope is US assistance building subs in Taiwan after US 2016 Election under an anti-communist US Republican President.



Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

Yes Taiwan should develop much of the future sub submarine - But also attracting basic US help [eg submarine steel]. US could supply 500 ton plans.

Some inspiration from Korea's design which considers various propulsion types. I agree - basically large Li-ion Battery capacity - no diesel, no battery generator required. 400mm torpedos as used in Baltic - 10 or 12 torpedo tubes - no reloads. Small crew of 10 or less.

I think our concept proposal should be worth $300 million when we sell it to US-Taiwan :)



Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
I think the problem with Taiwan is that they want to US to build them SSK submarines. The US Navy doesn't build SSK Submarines anymore. What I think may work is that the US provides technical assistance to Taiwan and let Taiwan build their own submarines.

I propose an updated Barbel class Submarine with large Li-ion Battery capacity and a diesel back up. I would give them the blueprints and the steel for them to build the Barbel class Submarines and provide technical assistance on the same level that the US did for Spain, when Spain's S-80 class Submarine had a weight issue.

I also think Taiwan still has the Blueprints for the Hai Lung-class submarine and they should consider building an upgraded version based on the Hai Lung-class Hai Lung-class submarine.

What Taiwan needs to build is smaller SSK submarines on the level of the Kobben class Submarine, Type 205 class Submarine and Type 206 class Submarine. At least smaller that are 500 tons can get them started and going.