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Taiwan has launched its first domestically produced submarine, demonstrating its determination to counter growing military pressure from China.
The ship’s completion, which took nearly seven years and cost NT$49.4 billion (US$1.5 billion), is a milestone for Taiwan, which has struggled for decades to purchase submarines and acquire technology to build them. Beijing has pressured other countries not to conduct such sales.
“We did it,” President Tsai Ing-wen said Thursday as she stood in front of a submarine at state-owned shipyard CSBC in the southern port of Kaohsiung. She said the submarine will “dive into the depths of the sea with Taiwan’s spirit of tenacity and courage and quietly defend our homeland, our freedom and our democracy.”
Taiwan plans to build up to eight such ships, which national security and military officials say will bolster its ability to counter China’s rapidly growing naval power. Taipei has only two old Dutch-built submarines, purchased in the 1980s, and has been pursuing new underwater capabilities since the 1990s.
In April 2001, then-US President George W. Bush approved the sale of diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan. However, since the United States only builds nuclear-powered submarines and cannot obtain diesel-electric propulsion technology from other countries, no agreement was reached.
Frequent disputes in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan over the defense budget have also delayed efforts to procure submarines. Tsai Ing-wen launched the indigenous submarine program after taking office in 2016.
Admiral Huang Shuguang, a former navy commander who is now a member of Tsai Ing-wen’s National Security Council and is in charge of the submarine program, said at the unveiling ceremony that the ship will be handed over to the navy at the end of 2024.
Huang said it will be equipped with MK 48 anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare torpedoes supplied by Lockheed Martin.
Taiwan keeps much of its submarine supply chain tightly secret, fearing Beijing may pressure suppliers to cut off support. But CSBC chairman Zheng Wenlun said the ship’s “local content quota” was about 40%.
“Key weapons systems, electronic equipment, sonar, etc. are all things we cannot produce ourselves,” said Shu Xiaohuang, an analyst at the National Defense Security Research Institute, a think tank of the Ministry of National Defense.
Many U.S. defense experts believe the program distracts Taiwan from rapidly building up a stockpile of cheap mobile munitions and strengthening its defense capabilities against invading forces on the ground.
However, Taiwanese strategists believe the submarines could complicate PLA Navy operations in Taiwan’s northern and southern straits.
Tsai Ing-wen called the submarine “an important piece of equipment for the navy to develop asymmetric combat capabilities.”
Observers said the ship’s unveiling showed Taipei’s desire to boost public confidence as China escalates its campaign of military intimidation ahead of January’s presidential election.
The People’s Liberation Army has held a series of naval and air exercises near the island in the past few weeks, including frequent anti-submarine drills.
While Lai Ching-te of Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party is leading in opinion polls, the party is expected to lose control of the Legislative Yuan, raising questions about future growth in defense spending.
“The indigenous submarine program is an important capability to protect Taiwan’s maritime borders,” Tsai said. “I hope that in the future [we] One can cut across party lines to make national security a priority and continue to support submarine construction. “