Taiwan to build eight submarines to strengthen its ageing fleet

Construction comes as mainland China is boosting its naval forces, increasing naval patrols close to Taiwan and making more assertive claims to the South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 3:26pm

Taiwan plans to build eight submarines to bolster its current fleet of four ageing foreign-built vessels, a senior Taiwanese navy official said on Wednesday.

“In our indigenous submarine project, we hope to be able to make eight submarines,” Lee Tsung-hsiao, navy chief of staff, told lawmakers, confirming publicly for the first time the number of vessels planned.

Cheng Wen-lon, chairman of state-controlled shipbuilder CSBC Corp Taiwan, which has been contracted to build the submarines, told legislators the initial design would be completed early next year.

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Military and defence industry officials in Taiwan have said the first submarine is expected to go into operation within 10 years.

Lee’s comments come ahead of the first meeting between leaders of the United States and mainland China this week that Taipei is worried could harm its interests.

China regards democratic Taiwan part of its territory and has never renounced the use of force to take control of what it sees as a wayward province.

The United States is obligated by US law to help Taiwan defend itself, but its arms sales to Taiwan anger Beijing and it has slowed down the pace of sales, defence experts said.

Taiwan and the United States, its sole arms supplier, are currently engaged in fresh arms sales talks.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen vowed last month that her administration would see through the home-built submarine programme as she toured one of the navy’s four aging submarines, purchased from the United States and Netherlands at least 30 years ago.

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Taiwan has never built a submarine before and will need to rely on foreign technology support to make an advanced vessel, defence experts have said.

Taiwan’s submarine project is in the middle of a four-year design contract phase budgeted at NT$3 billion (US$98.7 million) that began in 2016.