The self-governing island nation of Taiwan has maintained a small force of antiquated submarines, while it sought to acquire more modern vessels for years. Due to political pressure from Beijing, Taipei was unable to find any sellers – and as a result, it then set out to build its own.
As part of the efforts, Taiwan designed and built a new shipyard in the city of Kaohsiung, while it stealthily recruited experts and gathered technology from around the world. It has been producing what will be a fleet of eight modern conventionally-powered attack submarines.
The first of those boats was launched last month.
The Hai Kun (SS-711) is the first of the eight new submarines being developed under a multibillion-dollar program that could bolster Taiwan’s naval defenses in the event of war with China. The new submarine is reported to be around 260 feet long and has a displacement of between 2,460 and 2,950 tons.
“History will forever remember this day,” President Tsai Ing Wen said during the ceremony. “In the past, a domestically made submarine was considered impossible, but today a submarine designed and built by our countrymen is in front of you,” and added, “It is the concrete realization of our resolution to protect [Taiwan].”
Video of the launch ceremony has been shared on social media.
An International Effort
Though Taipei has made a significant investment to produce the facilities to build the subs, its program has also drawn from an international coalition, which has provided the technical expertise and components.
Taiwan has hired engineers, technicians, and former naval officers from Australia, South Korea, India, Spain, and Canada
Though the United States and the UK wouldn’t actually sell a completed boat to Taiwan – in part due to the fact that each has only nuclear-powered submarines and doesn’t build diesel-electric boats – each nation has provided combat-system components and sonar arrays. The UK even approved multiple export licenses in recent years for British-based companies to supply critical parts, technology, and software.
Taiwan’s domestically-built subs have some characteristics of Western submarines, notably the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class as the Hai Kun-class utilize masts supplied by L3 Harris, which are expected to include electro-optical ‘periscopes.’
Those masts are similar to the ones aboard the Virginia-class, and have several advantages, including the fact that they do not penetrate the hull so they are safer for the boat if it accidentally hits a ship. Another advantage is that they are modular, meaning that new masts can easily be switched in or out. And the modern optics means that the periscope doesn’t have to be raised for as long, so it is less likely to be detected, Naval News reported.
The Taiwanese Navy’s submarine will likely be armed with the U.S.-supplied MK-48 Mod6 Advanced Technology (AT) heavyweight torpedoes – which were approved for sale to Taiwan in 2020 – along with a submarine-launched version of the U.S. Navy’s Harpoon anti-ship missile. The UGM-84 Sub-Harpoon is currently in service with Taiwan aboard the Hai Lunch-class of subs.
A Burgeoning Sub Powerhouse
Taiwan has sought to build the submarines to counter the threat of an invasion from mainland China, which sees the self-ruling island as a breakaway province that will be returned to Beijing’s control and by force if necessary. Such an effort would require a seaborne invasion, and submarines could prove vital to stopping an invasion flotilla.
Yet, the Taiwanese Navy currently consists of just four submarines including two World War II-era boats from the United States. Those are now primarily used for training, while its combat force consists of two diesel submarines acquired from the Netherlands in the 1980s.
BREAKING: Taiwan unveils its first-ever indigenous submarine. It’s part of a fleet of 8 vessels that will be made domestically. pic.twitter.com/tDRSp9qKyK
— TaiwanPlus News (@taiwanplusnews) September 28, 2023
Taipei launched its domestic submarine program to build its own submarines in 2017 after years of failed attempts to update its fleet.
“We had a lot of difficulties acquiring submarines from other countries,” Lo Chih-cheng, a lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and member of the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, told Time Magazine. “No countries, including the U.S., were willing to sell submarines to us, so we decided to build our own.”
“And in the process of building the submarine, Taiwan received a lot of international support,” Lo added.
The Hai Kun is set to begin sea trials, which should be completed by the end of next year. The boat will then be handed over to the Taiwanese Navy – just the first of a planned eight.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.