Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jamestown Brief on Taiwan Initiating Domestic Sub Production

Lots of rumors in the media lately about Taiwan beginning a program in domestic submarine construction. This would get around the high cost of the submarines the US is offering to Taiwan -- a cost some have claimed was inflated to prevent Taiwan from accepting the offer, since that would cause the US to develop an indigenous electric sub manufacturing capability, which the US navy does not want since it likes nuclear subs. Making subs at home would also enable Taiwan to develop an export sales capability. The global market for submarines is around $16 billion annually, but most of that is US. It is expected to grow. Note that with the pushback against Chinese expansion in Asia, Taiwan's natural market is right next door.

I've never been a fan of submarines for Taiwan. However, many defense experts advocate subs on the grounds that they are the best anti-sub platforms. To my mind effective use of submarines by Taiwan's navy in such a role presupposes the kind of long institutional experience with submarines that navies like Russia, the UK, or the US have. Taiwan does not. For the kind of money we'd be spending building subs, we can absolutely bristle with missiles, which is what we should be buying, and missile-equipped fast attack boats.

The Jamestown Brief has a great article on the current move to procure submarines domestically:
For example, a founding member of the quasi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation and long time advisor to Ma, Chen Chang-wen (C.V. Chen), who was a strong vocal opponent of U.S. arms sale since 2002, shifted his position to support the indigenous submarine program in a widely-noted editorial in spring 2009. In the article, Chen explained that, in the past, nearly 60 percent of Taiwan’s defense budget was being spent on purchasing equipments from abroad, which did not improve Taiwan’s technological standards and military capabilities, nor did they help Taiwan’s economy or expand business opportunities. On the other hand, if the eight submarines are produced domestically, then about 30 percent of the human labor cost would create business opportunities in Taiwan, and Taiwanese businesses could supply approximately 40 percent of the items for 60 percent of the equipment material cost. Additionally, other associated maintenance costs and investments would be able to help the economy (China Times, March 23, 2009).
Good stuff. The debate in Taiwan's defense establishment, concludes the article, is now a debate over when, not whether, a domestic sub program will begin.

ADDED: Also on this subject: Does the US Navy have the resources for the Pacific Century? The answer is obvious: yes, if the nation doesn't senselessly waste them in endless and stupid wars in the Middle East.
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Okami said...

I think it's just wishful thinking by the military. Because if they honestly can't maintain humvees, then how the hell are they are they going to maintain subs. Subs have to be quiet, which isn't an adjective I'd use to describe most things Taiwanese.

I'm writing this up as grandiose chest thumping. I'm sure it will get some quasi-NGO to write up some papers that are bought by the govt showing how great it is before it's hushed up because there's no money nor technical expertise to get the whole thing off the ground.

Michael Turton said...

Heh. That was my reaction too. I just can't believe in my heart we'll ever see a single sub here, not without massive tech transfer from somewhere....

Anonymous said...

I believe we may see a sub in Taiwan... just not flying ROC colors.