Searching for Submarines

Second World War vintage Tench class

For years, Taiwan has talked about new conventional hunter-killer submarines (SSKs). The country’s navy currently operates four aged submarines; two Second World War vintage Tench class plus two Chien Lung class SSKs delivered from the Netherlands, and commissioned in 1987 and 1988.

Chien Lung class SSKs

The United States, formally committed to helping the island acquire defence equipment, no longer produces SSKs, while European manufacturers have seemed reluctant to export their wares to Taiwan for fear of offending Beijing. The most-feasible solution seems domestic production, using foreign parts and technologies.

From whom? Until recently Washington seemed the most likely candidate, but Japan’s efforts at securing a similar contract for the replacement of the Royal Australian Navy’s ‘Collins’ class SSKs are a reminder that Tokyo is another option for Taipei. Further discussion of submarine acquisitions in the Asia-Pacific can be found in Dr. Alix Valenti’s The Silent Service article in the March 2016 print edition of the Asian Military Review.

Japan builds and operates some of the most advanced submarines in the Asia-Pacific in the form of its ‘Soryu’ and ‘Oyashio’ class boats. In Australia, Tokyo’s bid, led by Mitsubishi and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, is based on a modified version of the ‘Soryu’ class, an SSK displacing 4100 tons submerged, to be manufactured locally. Experts are urging Taipei to adopt a more defensive-minded military strategy, and submarines are ideal to defend against blockades and amphibious landings. But will Japan risk the inevitable downturn in its already-strained relationship with the People’s Republic of China by supplying SSKs, or the know-how to this end, to Taipei?