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Amidst China Tensions, Taiwan to Conduct First Test of Indigenous Defense Submarine

A Taiwanese admiral said the new submarine is expected to be delivered to Taiwan’s navy by next year.

Taiwan will begin testing its first indigenous defense submarine (IDS) next week, designed to serve as a deterrent against China’s possible blockade of the self-ruling island, a defense official said Tuesday.

Adm. Huang Shu-kuang, convener of the IDS program, said that Taiwan will test its first domestically built submarine on Sept. 28, with harbor acceptance tests scheduled to begin on Oct. 1.

These tests are expected to end by April 1, 2024. The submarine will undergo sea acceptance tests before being delivered to Taiwan’s navy next year.

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“There’s no set timeline for the sea tests because this is our maiden submarine, but we hope to hand it over to the navy within next year,” Adm. Huang said in an interview with Nikkei Asia on Sept. 14.

The diesel engine submarine will have U.S.-based Lockheed Martin’s MK-48 anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare torpedoes, according to the report.

Adm. Huang said that Taiwan plans to build seven more submarines, complementing its existing two combat-ready submarines, versions of the Zwaardvis-class subs purchased from the Netherlands in the 1980s.

Submarines Built to Thwart China’s Blockade

Taiwan aims to use submarines to counter China’s encirclement and thwart any invasion attempt. Adm. Huang said that preventing the Chinese military from approaching the “first island chain” would open up more room for other nations to extend support to Taiwan.

“The longer an attack drags on, the worse it would be for China, because the world, including Japan, will more likely intervene,” the admiral said.

According to Adm. Huang, Taiwan’s defense strategy is focused on the island’s northeastern waters and the Bashi Channel, the passage between the Philippines’ Mavulis Island and Taiwan’s Orchid Island. He said that China will likely seek Russia’s support in the East China Sea.

“In the event of a serious attack, China will likely lean on Russia to send their navy in the East China Sea to ward off support from Japan and the U.S. They will want to isolate Taiwan and finish off the invasion as soon as possible,” he said.

“Taiwan can’t be surrounded by China from all sides. Otherwise, we’ll be doomed,” Adm. Huang added.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which claims Taiwan as its territory to be annexed by force if necessary, operates a growing navy boasting over 50 submarines, including nuclear-powered ones.

Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in September last year that China has “a very large navy” that can “bully and put ships around Taiwan.”

He could not predict whether the Chinese regime would blockade or launch a full-fledged attack against Taiwan, but said that the U.S. Navy is prepared for any scenario.

“Clearly, if they do something that’s non-kinetic, which, you know, a blockade is less kinetic, then that allows the international community to weigh in and to work together on how we’re going to solve that challenge,” he said.

Unofficial Strategy to Acquire Supplies

Taiwan turned to the expensive and time-consuming task of building its own submarines after the CCP effectively blocked its attempts to procure vessels from foreign sources through the use of economic and diplomatic pressure threats.

To overcome Chinese pressure, Adm. Huang said he employed a “legal and unofficial strategy,” which included leveraging relationships that extended into other armed forces, as well as foreign defense and security companies.

“For every component, we reached out to three suppliers because some would turn us down. They also charge a premium compared to official deals,” Adm. Huang told Nikkei Asia.

“There are instances where we spent around half a year working toward a deal, and the partner withdrew at the moment right before the contract was signed, i.e. a last-minute withdrawal due to political pressure [from China],” he added.

Taiwan began constructing its own submarine in 2020 in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. The cost for building eight submarines under the IDS program is estimated to reach up to $16 billion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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