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Taiwan Establishes Submarine Development Center

August 3, 2016 (Photo Credit: Wendell Minnick)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan-based China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC) established a submarine development center on Monday to support the construction of six to eight diesel electric submarines under the Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) program.

The Taiwanese Navy has a requirement to replace two inoperable World War II-era Guppy-class attack submarines as well as the life extension program for its two Dutch-built Sea Dragon-class (Zwaardvis Mk 2) submarines built during the early 1980s. 

The new Submarine Development Center of CSBC (SDCC) will produce a design for the IDS under a budget of $95 million by the end of this year.

Taiwan’s Navy has expressed frustration since the US agreed to assist Taiwan in the acquisition of eight diesel attack submarines in 2001, but was unable to fulfill the promise due to pressure from China and technological challenges. The US has not built a diesel electric submarine since the Barbel-class in the 1950s.

“CSBC's establishment of a submarine development center is a positive sign,” said Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank based in Washington, DC. “Taiwan's defense industry is taking the submarine program seriously. If licensed, US partners have a supporting role to play in the IDS program.”

Stokes served as the Pentagon’s team chief and senior country director for Taiwan in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs during the 2001 arms release. He is described by many within the US and Taiwan defense industries as a major advocate of Taiwan’s acquisition of submarines.

The SDCC announcement comes only a month before the 2016 Kaohsiung International Maritime and Defense Industry Expo. Taiwan’s Navy is implementing a wide-ranging fleet modernization effort that includes Aegis destroyers, frigates, high-speed minelayers, landing platform docks, additional stealthy Tuo Jiang-class missile corvette catamarans and multi-purpose transports.

There is some skepticism in Taiwan over the IDS and the larger fleet modernization and recapitalization efforts.  

Ching Chang, a research fellow of the Taipei-based Society for Strategic Studies and former Taiwan naval officer, sees a potential incentive to drive associated economic activities in the manufacturing and service sectors.

However, “one leaf makes no autumn,” Chang said; his concern is that the limited numbers of build programs will not survive beyond domestic demand. This was the case, Chang said, with the production of the Indigenous Defense Fighter during the 1990s that ceased after 130 aircraft and the line closed.

Ultimately the real decision on whether Taiwan has a successful submarine and surface vessel recapitalization program lies in Washington, DC, which approves much of the advanced technological defense exports Taipei relies so heavily on, Chang said. With the coming election, there will be a delay until summer when the new US National Security Council settles into work and examines the request in accordance with the incoming president’s policy goals.

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