FEATURE | Taiwan’s submarine project now underway

JMSDF Soryu-class sub

On May 9, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen supervised a ground breaking ceremony for a new submarine construction facility at the China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC) yard in Kaohsiung.

The ceremony signalled that the construction phase of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine programme, a project first mooted in the 1990s is finally underway. Construction is planned to commence in 2020-21, with the first of, probably, up to eight boats due to be completed in 2026.

According to regional reports, the new subs will displace about 2,500-3,000 tonnes, and will resemble a scaled-down version of the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force’s (JMSDF) 4,200-tonne Soryu class. A model of the boat features, like the Soryus, a conning tower which is mounted well forward, and fitted with diving planes. Engineers formerly employed by Japanese companies Mitsubishi, and Kawasaki, have key roles in the project.

Japanese involvement in the programme probably reflects Tokyo’s continuing close relationship with a territory it once ruled, and its desire to boost arms exports, as well as current Japanese concerns over the PRC’s maritime expansionist policies.

The submarine will reportedly feature an X -configuration rudder, making them suitable for littoral operations. Analysts believe that, as they will not be required to undertake prolonged long range missions, it is very likely that they will rely upon conventional diesel-electric, rather than more complex, and expensive, air-independent, propulsion.

Armament will reportedly include Mk. 48 torpedoes, and Harpoon anti-shipping cruise missiles, as well as indigenous weapon systems. Sophisticated sensor systems, probably mainly of American origin, will be fitted. Some components of European origin are likely to be incorporated. Lockheed Martin will carry out system integration, while the Gibraltar-based consultancy Gavron is also involved.

The prime roles of the submarines will be the deterrence of invasion, or blockade operations by China’s PLA Navy, as well as visual and electronic intelligence gathering.


Trevor Hollingsbee

Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.