Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Taiwan’s Indigenous Submarine Building Program still Needs Imported Technologies

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(Photo : ROCN) Taiwan's only two diesel electric attack submarines. Hai Lung (SS-793) and Hai Hu (SS-794).

The ambitious program by the Republic of China (Taiwan) to build its own diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs) appears to have run into a serious snag -- the need to import five key systems vital to operating the new boats.

On March 21, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced the launch of a submarine construction program that should see Taiwan build at least eight SSKs over the next decades under its Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) Program.

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The addition of the eight new boats will give Taiwan 10 submarines. The eight boats will be armed with Mark 48 (Mk-48) heavyweight submarine torpedoes and UGM-84L Sub-launched Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles from the United States.

"Strengthening underwater combat capabilities is most needed in Taiwan's defense," said Tsai during a tour of a submarine at the southern naval port of Zuoying.

"This is a problem everyone recognizes. We have been unable to solve this in the past. As commander of the armed forces, I am determined to solve this problem."

Tsai signed a procurement contract and memorandum of understanding on cooperation involving the Taiwan government; local shipbuilder China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC); the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) and the state-run National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology.

Scarcely a month later and Taiwan media are reporting Taiwan can't manufacture five critical pieces of submarine technology. These technologies need to be imported. Among the technologies that can only be supplied by foreign firms are torpedo tubes and periscopes.

Military analysts also speculate that Taiwan might also have to import the AIP or air-independent propulsion technology (or a similar technology) that allows the submarine operate almost noise-free when submerged.

AIP is any marine propulsion technology that allows a non-nuclear submarine to operate without access to atmospheric oxygen, either by surfacing or using a snorkel. AIP can augment or replace the diesel-electric propulsion system of non-nuclear vessels.

Ching Fu Shipbuilding, the company designing the combat systems for the new subs and the largest subcontractor for Taiwan's domestic submarine program, said the IDS Program is currently in the design stage. Development of the new subs is led by the National Chung-Shan Institute. 

ROCN only operates two, 30-year old Chien Lung-class SSKs as its front line submarines.

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