Sat, 02 Dec 2023

Hong Kong, October 3 (ANI): China responded with mocking derision when Taiwan unveiled its first Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS), which displaces approximately 2,700 tons, at a ceremony in Kaohsiung on 28 September. Taiwan is planning to construct up to eight such submarines and, despite China's rhetoric, they will present significant challenges to China's military in any potential conflict.

Senior Colonel Wu Qian, a spokesman for China's Ministry of National Defense, described Taiwan's submarine program as "a broom attempting to hold hack the tide". He also called the effort "idiotic nonsense".With bluster typical of Chinese officialdom whenever it comes to the topic of Taiwan, Senior Colonel Wu said that, no matter how many weapons Taiwan builds, they will "not be able to stop the general trend of national reunification, or shake the staunch determination, strong will and strong capabilities" of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Taiwan's first IDS was christened Hai Kun, and the design is rather conventional as is befitting for the country's first ever attempt at building a submarine. Construction of this diesel-electric submarine commenced on 24 November 2020, following a contract signed with shipbuilder CSBC Corporation. This boat is approximately 70m long, and is Taiwan's first submarine to feature X-shaped rudders. Such rudders offer better underwater maneuverability compared to a traditional cruciform configuration. Harbor acceptance tests of the first IDS were to occur on 1 October, ahead of sea trials scheduledfor around April 2024. Retired admiral Huang Shu-kuang, head of the submarine program, said that the future ROCS Hai Kun would be handed over to the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) by the end of 2024.

In similar dismissive fashion to the PLA's Senior Colonel Wu, a story published in the Chinese tabloid Global Times on 25 September said any Taiwanese ambition to prevent the PLA Navy (PLAN) from entering the Pacific Ocean "is just an illusion of the island attempting to resist reunification by force". It quoted an unnamed Chinese expert asserting that: "If a conflict breaks out, the island's submarines will be easily detected and dealt with by the PLA, and they will pose only limited threats." Such reasoning is flawed, however.

Submarines are notoriously difficult to track, and their sudden appearance can cause mayhem. The"expert" quoted in the Global Times report failed to mention that anti-submarine warfare is a major weakness of the PLAN. Because of this, submarines therefore represent a good choice for Taiwan. They will be critical to Taiwan's asymmetric warfare preparations to defend against any coercive military action by the PLA. In fact, the IDS program is a key deterrent in case Beijing ever thinks an amphibious invasion or naval blockade is the best course of action to subjugate Taiwan.

In any future conflict, Taiwanese submarines have the ability to torpedo Chinese warships, to lay sea mines near Chinese ports to blockade them, to conduct reconnaissance, to disrupt Chinese merchant shipping, to insert and extract special forces, and to launch cruise missiles against Chinese military facilities near the coast. That"they will pose only limited threats" is a gross and deliberate understatement.

Nonetheless, it should be remembered that the center of gravity for any fighting between China and Taiwan would be in the sea and air domains that separate the two countries. Waters in the Taiwan Strait are shallower than the deep waters found to the east of Taiwan, and this makes them less suitable for submarine operations. However, with the PLAN and PLA Air Force now routinely rehearsing operations to the east of Taiwan and even circumnavigations, Taiwan's submarine fleet would get plenty oftarget practice. Of course, Taiwan is a critical link in the so-called First Island Chain, an imaginary line that runs through archipelagos running from Japan, through Taiwan and the Philippines down to Malaysia. If Taiwan fell, this chain would be irrevocablysnapped and the PLAN would have bases in Taiwan with which to launch submarines and warships deep into the Pacific Ocean.

Dr. Collin Koh, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told ANI:"Taiwan's naval modernization stems from, first and foremost, the growing military threat posed by mainland China, and it also reflects the much broader associated quest for defense self-reliance, which in no small part stems from uncertainty about a possible US military intervention in the event of a major-scale aggression by Beijing, such as an armed invasion."If submarines are so impotent, the question also needs to be asked why China itself is investing so heavily in them! Chairman Xi Jinping recognizes their importance to the PLA, and he has prioritized the force's expansion and modernization. Xi stated that the submarine force "is tasked with glorious missions and bears great responsibility".

He has also called on the force to make greater contributions to achieve goals set for the PLA's centenary in 2027. Xi praised the underwater force for having "taken the initiative to shoulder responsibilities, achieving a series of breakthroughs and fulfilling various tasks excellently". The importance China is placing on underwater warfare is also underscored by its efforts in meteorological and oceanographic capabilities. According to the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI), part of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College, "This comparative ignorance of the ocean battlespace environment is a major impediment to PLAN submarine and anti-submarine warfare operations, especially beyond the First Island Chain." It is busily trying to rectify that with ongoing oceanographic surveys in numerous locations. The CMSI also noted, "China's technological progress in submarine construction has been uneven, with enduring weaknesses in propulsion andquieting. To compensate, China has exploited its partnership with Russia to obtain cutting-edge submarine- related technologies." Whereas China turned to Russia for technical assistance, Taiwan resorted primarily to the USA.

One other reason for Chinese analysts to talk down Taiwan's submarine fleet is the small number of vessels in the ROCN - eventually eight IDS plus its two current Dutch-built Hai Lung-class submarines. Unsurprisingly, the PLAN submarine fleet greatly outnumbers them, plus Taiwanese submarines would be vulnerable when in port. Russia can testify to this after recently losing a Kilo-class boat to a Ukrainian missile attack while it was in a Sevastopol dry dock. China has approximately 56 conventional submarines, the largest such fleet in the world. To these must be added the members of its nuclear-powered submarine fleet.

On the other hand, submarines ranging far and wide will force an adversary to dedicate large numbers of surface and underwater vessels, as well as aircraft, to counter them. China definitely recognizes the force-multiplying effect that new modern submarines will give Taiwan, but for the sake of its own populace, Chinese media are feverishly diminishing their real impact. All these above scenarios presuppose that the two neighbors are already at war.

However, the fact of the matter is that China and Taiwan are currently at peace and, in such conditions, the ROCN can utilize submarines to covertly monitor Chinese military activity around Taiwanese territory.

Mao Ning, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, reasserted Beijing's canard that "Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, and the reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is bound to be realized". She blamed the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for squandering the hard-earned money of the Taiwan people by purchasing these submarines and creating a confrontation across the Taiwan Strait.With Taiwan's latest defense budget amounting to NTD606.8 billion (USD19.1 billion), it comes as no surprise that a unit cost of USD1.54 billion per submarine consumes quite a significant portion of that sum. Instead of purchasing an expensive fleet of modern diesel-electric submarines, some argue that Taiwan might have been better off investing in cheaper weapons - like mines, drones and missiles - to deterChina. They also criticize Taiwan for this "national prestige" program that is consuming scant resources.Dr. Koh noted: "In the case of Taiwan, given its limited defense budget, it faces much less room to expand across various force categories, which are undergoing block obsolescence and thus requiring urgent recapitalization. In particular, many resources aredevoted to the indigenous submarine program, which meant less for other requirements - especially the major surface combatant program..." The Singaporeanacademic added that "funding is a perennial problem for ROCN given competing operational, capital asset acquisition and manpower needs for alimited defense budget".

It is true that the submarine program has been a personal project for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. She initiated this domestic shipbuilding effort back in 2016.

Yet Tsai added rightly noted at the unveiling ceremony,"Even if there are risks, and no matter how many challenges there are, Taiwan must take this step and allow a self-reliant national defense policy to grow and flourish on our land."This IDS project goes far beyond national prestige, for Taiwan must take responsibility for its own survival. The country cannot rely on the fickle promises of the USA or other countries. Furthermore, many nations and companies refuse to face the wrath of China by supporting Taipei's defense build-up. With such little international support, Taiwan has been forced to build its own submarines. To put its fate in the hands of others would be irresponsible and foolhardy. Indeed, Taipei must consider the long-term viability of its defense posture, and that definitely requires sufficient numbers of submarines to complicate PLA operations in and around Taiwan now and in the future. Taiwan had been unable to buy new submarines from any overseas vendor since purchasing its two Hai Lung-class boats from the Netherlands in 1981. The USA acted as a key contributor of technologiesfor the IDS program and, risking Chinese wrath, a number of companies clandestinely supported Taiwan.

According to Reuters, at least seven countries contributed, including the UK and USA. Engineers andtechnicians were also employed from the likes of Australia, Canada, India, South Korea and Spain. Despite the IDS label, indigenous content forms just 40 per cent of the submarine. Advanced systems like the combat management system come from American firm Lockheed Martin, while Raytheon supplied the sonar arrays, and L3Harris the mast-raising system. In terms of weapons, the IDS will carry MK 48 Mod 6 torpedoes and Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the USA.

Logically, Taiwan opted for traditional lead-acid batteries rather than air-independent propulsion (AIP). The former means of propulsion is stable, reliable and represents lower technical risk for Taiwan's first submarine. Questions remain over how the IDS will compare qualitatively with PLAN submarines, the latest of which do have AIP. For the East Asian nations of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, Koh said that "defenseself-reliance is a key objective, as part of safeguarding defense sovereigntythat's so crucial in both peace and wartime scenarios.

All of them benefit from close defense relations with key allies and partners, especially the US, but it by no means guarantee full access to those naval capabilities they desire. For example, Taiwan needs submarines, but no country would sell to the island due to obvious geopolitical sensitivities.

The USA could have been the only willing party for this, but it has not built conventional subs since going fully nuclear decades ago. Given such circumstances, for Taiwan it is for such unique strategic circumstances that it seeks a well-developed naval shipbuilding industry.

" Taiwan's second submarine is already under construction, and it is due for completion in 2027. Despite the vitriolic denials and the scoffing, the PLA will be fuming that its nemesis is multiplying the invasion difficulty level with every new Taiwanese submarine that is commissioned. (ANI)

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