Hidden Dragon / Indigenous Defense Submarine
Due to the threat facing the country, and outdated, and classed submarines in the naval fleet, Taiwan’s MND under the direction of the Tsai government initiated the project to begin manufacturing submarines domestically in 2016. The contract design phase was planned to last from 2016-2020, but the MND and partners in the project had shown remarkable progress, and a prototype model sub may soon be ready for manufacture. The project budget for the prototype is NT$49.3 billion (US$1.6 billion). The design for the prototype should be finalized in 2019, and construction of the first indigenous sub should begin in 2020, or possibly later in 2019 if progress kept apace. The first indigenous defense submarine is expected to be completed by 2025, and will then undergo one to two years of testing before entering service.
Taiwan considered building its own submarines if it was not able to acquire them from other countries. Under one plan, Taiwan's state-run China Shipbuilding Corp., in cooperation with Taiwan's Chungshan Institute of Technology, would build six to 10 of the submarines for military service starting in 2005. Taiwan's China Steel Company has developed HY submarine steel; China Shipbuilding Company had also begun studying and developing the design and build process of submarine hull on the basis of its experience in submarine servicing; and the development of heavy wire-guided antisubmarine torpedoes has gone underway at Chung Shan Academy of Scientific Research.
The CSC had a Hidden Dragon project launched in July 2001 to show its technological capabilities to build the submarines. The Taiwan Navy was seeking a logistics approach that maximized self-sufficiency in maintenance and will dole out much of the work to the CSC. In March 2005, the DPP administration decided not to build its own submarines on the grounds that such a move would be too costly.
The Indigenous Defence Submarine was under feasibility study. This project will be led by CSBC as well as local industry-wide and local academics. Indigenous Defence Submarine was a CSBC dream for long long time. Could it be fulfilled? Now CSBC has decided to have all local resources of industry and academics join together to make it true. The Task Force Sub Dragon was collecting relevant information & thoughts doing the feasibility study.
By April 2009 Taiwan appeared to have given up on a 2001 US offer of eight diesel submarines and planned instead to develop an indigenous vessel. The special budget for the submarines had been held up in the legislature for six years due to political infighting between factions supporting independence from China and those supporting unification. China Shipbuilding Corp. (CSBC) had pushed for an indigenous submarine program in 2001, but failed to get MND support. The design for the Hidden Dragon Program Indigenous Defense Submarine was based on the Argentinean TR-1700 and the Norwegian Ula-class Type 210.
Submarine sales to Taiwan are “highly improbable,” a commentary published by the US Council on Foreign Relations said 17 September 2014. “Transferring submarine technology to the island will take too long and cost the Taiwanese military far more than what it can afford,” council research associate Lauren Dickey said. She said that Germany, Japan and the Netherlands all produce small, diesel-electric submarines that would meet Taiwan’s needs, but that what holds these countries back from selling to Taiwan was the fear of economic or political fallout from Beijing.
Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced on 01 October 2014 that it was reviewing a proposal by the Republic of China Navy (RoCN) to launch a USD4.9 billion program to build four diesel-electric submarines. Defense officials said that if the budget was approved, development of Taiwan's first indigenous submarines could begin in 2016. Several state-owned agencies had been named as partners in the project.
Taiwan will soon complete a design blueprint for a submarine as it strives to build indigenous submarines to replace its aging fleet, a Navy official said 15 October 2014 at an international seminar in Taipei. "We plan to complete the design by the end of this year," said an official with the Navy's Division of Planning during a break in the 2014 Sea Lines of Communication Conference at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Once the design was completed, "we plan to begin building the submarine in two years," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The official reiterated that aside from developing an indigenous submarine program, Taiwan was also looking to acquire submarines from overseas. Taiwan was still hoping for US assistance in helping it acquire diesel-electric submarines, but "we cannot just keep waiting," the official said, explaining why Taiwan has begun thinking about building submarines by itself.
The “National Defense Policy Blue Paper” released by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party on 03 October 2014 proposed that the military engage in "reverse engineering" on its Dutch-made Swordfish-class subs before moving to develop and build at least six 1,500-ton new subs, since it was almost impossible for Taiwan to buy submarines from other countries due to its political status. Perhaps what most distinguishes the DPP from the KMT, the People First Party, and the New Party was its inclination toward Taiwan independence, or the permanent political separation of Taiwan from China. However, recently, the DPP leadership has tried to downplay the party's independence theme in an attempt to broaden voter support.
According to the blue paper, it listed the indigenous submarine program as the DPP's top priority in a strategy to build up the domestic military industry. The DPP's two-phase plan aims to expand Taiwan's aging submarine fleet by building at least six 1,500-ton submarines by 2042. The project would officially begin in 2017 and aim to build one sub every three years. Budgets for the program would be approximately NT$350 billion-NT$400 billion, the paper added.
The DPP goal was to design and produce six or more submarines, to form a fleet of eight to establish a sufficient submarine force, and to increase Taiwan’s submarine building capacity. The new submarines will be medium size submarines with 1500-ton surface displacement, in order to protect the Bashi Channel and Taiwan’s northeast and east waters. Once the project was initiated (projected at 2017), production on a new submarine will start every three years. The first submarine will be completed approximately eight to ten years after the program launch (between 2025 and 2027), completing the production of six submarines in 23 to 25 years (between 2040 and 2042).
Taiwan lacks people with experience in submarine design and building, especially at the R&D stage. This will be the biggest obstacle to overcome for indigenous submarines. It generally requires ten to fifteen years to develop a new type of submarine, with two thirds of that time spent on the designs. Without a certain number of experienced professionals, the designing stage will be prolonged, raising the R&D cost.
Defense ministers of Japan and Australia agreed 16 October 2014 on possible cooperation in submarine technology. Australia showed strong interest in Japan's submarine engines and related technology. Japanese Defense Minister Akinori Eto and his Australian counterpart David Johnston met in Tokyo. Johnston asked Eto for cooperation with his country's new submarine plan. Eto responded that Japan will study what cooperation was possible. Japan has strict arms export rules known as "Guidelines for the Three Principles of Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology". It also had to think about the extent it will allow cooperation in the highly classified technology.
During a budget review session at the Legislative Yuan in late December 2018, the Committee of Foreign Affairs and National Defense discussed the indigenous defense submarine program with officials from the Ministry of National Defense (MND). The director of the Naval Shipbuilding Development Center, Rear Adm. Shao Wei-yang, revealed in his statements that the MND has already obtained the primary and secondary equipment marketing licenses which are necessary to begin construction on the indigenous Taiwan submarine program.
The MND planned to present the results of a classified report on the project in March 2019, and will seek legislative approval to begin construction on a prototype model sub in cooperation with the Taiwan Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC), the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, and international partners. Navy Chief of Staff, Lee Chung-hsiao, stated before the Legislative Yuan that nearly 15 European and North American manufacturers were interested in participating in the Taiwan’s domestic submarine manufacturing project.
There are reports that six foreign companies submitted design proposals for the submarines. Among the six companies, there are two from Europe, two from the U.S., as well as an Indian company and a Japanese firm offering designs for the subs. The Indian team has experience with the diesel submarines in service in the Indian Navy. The Japanese team reportedly includes retired engineers with previous experience working for Mistubishi on the Harushio class submarines, and large scale projects under Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
Both the Ministry of National Defense and U.S. contractors will be involved in choosing the preliminary design before moving on to drafting detailed blueprints, since design must be practical and capable of integrating the technology being transferred from the U.S., which may be a complicated process.
China on 14 January 2019 expressed stern opposition to participation by the United States and other countries in Taiwan's submarine production project. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying made the remarks when responding to media reports saying the United States has permitted some of its military enterprises to export technology to help Taiwan build submarines.
Enterprises from the United States, Europe, Japan and India have reportedly demonstrated their interest to take part in the project. China's firm opposition to any countries' arms sales and military relations with Taiwan in any forms is consistent and clear-cut, Hua stressed at a regular press briefing. "We urge the United States and other relevant countries to fully understand how sensitive and harmful this matter is," Hua added.
She urged these countries to adhere to the one-China principle and not to allow their enterprises to take part in Taiwan's submarine manufacture project in any forms. They must stop any forms of military ties with Taiwan, deal with Taiwan-related issues properly and cautiously to avoid severely jeopardizing relations with China as well as peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, she said.
The Chairman of Taiwan’s CSBC Shipbuilding Corporation, Cheng Wen-Lon, speaking at an industry conference on 25 February 2019 said that the completion of Taiwan’s first indigenous submarine may come sooner than previously anticipated. Chairman Cheng said that the domestically produced submarine, currently in the contract design phase, is now expected to be “ready for water” as soon as January 2024. According to earlier reports, the submarine was previously expected to be completed in late 2025. The majority of the vessel’s design will be completed in March, before going through a final review to work out details.
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