After years in the making, Taiwan on Tuesday officially began work on its first domestically produced submarine in an effort to beef up its coastal defences against an invasion from China.
Taiwan’s new programme will see the island build eight new diesel-powered attack submarines, which will substantially rejuvenate its fleet of two World War II-era vessels and two Dutch-made submarines built in the 1980s. The first submarine is expected to be completed by 2024.
The submarines are the latest initiative by President Tsai Ing-wen to reorient the island’s defence policy towards preventing an invasion rather than focusing on the aftermath. Her administration’s military shopping list has reflected the change, including the purchase of missiles and drones from the US over traditional buys such as tanks and destroyers, said Michael Mazza, a visiting fellow in foreign and defence policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
“Taiwan needs to replace old equipment but at the same time, there’s recognition they cannot rely on those sorts of [weapons] platforms quite as heavily as they have in the past,” Mazza said. “They’ve been shifting to a more ‘asymmetric’ approach that focuses on things like survivability, a large numbers of munitions, mobility, and a focus on smaller survivable lethal platforms rather than F16s, tanks and destroyers.”
Submarines would play a critical role in deterring an amphibious landing by China’s People Liberation Army and also patrol the Taiwan Strait, a strategic 180km (90-mile) wide waterway that separates Taiwan from mainland Asia. Beijing’s Communist Party claims sovereignty over both.