Taiwan's plan to save its 30-year-old submarine fleet

A deal has been struck with Dutch firm RH Marine to carry out badly needed upgrades to Taiwan’s two Hai Lung-class submarines, including equipping them with new long-range torpedoes

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(Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense has revealed its strategy to keep the country’s aging submarine fleet operational.

The MND has announced that it has reached an agreement with the Dutch firm RH Marine to modernize two Hai Lung-class submarines. RH Marine, which supplies various maritime automated and electronic technology will now carry out a feasibility study on the project.

They will look to address a number of issues with the vessels including cramped interiors and systems integration. They will also seek to modernize the submarine’s combat capabilities.

It is reported that the MND hopes to upgrade their electronic warfare and combat systems as well as equip them with US-made long-range torpedoes. The Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology is thought likely to carry out this part of the project.

It is reported that a tentative agreement to buy the necessary new equipment from a US-based defense manufacturer has already been agreed. MND officials reportedly held discussions and reached an agreement with the firm at the recent Taiwan-US Defense Business Forum in Kaohsiung.

It was confirmed back in 2016 that the U.S. had sold Taiwan a series of UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles. A submarine equipped with these would have the capability to strike Chinese assets from within Taiwanese waters, with targets such as Shanghai Port and China’s secret naval base on Hainan among the viable targets.

The Hai Lung class are more than 30 years old already and badly in need of modernization. They were originally designed to have a lifespan of 35 years.

Remarkably, they are still not the oldest submarines in the Taiwanese fleet. That honor belongs to two Tench class vessels which were bought from the USA in the 1970’s but commissioned during the time of the Second World War.

Choosing a Dutch company to carry out the project appears to be a shrewd move as they were originally designed based on the Dutch Zwaardvis series of submarines. While they are no longer used by the Dutch, RH Marine’s experience working with them means they are well placed to deliver the necessary modernizations to Taiwan’s vessels.

If the project is deemed technically feasible, contracting and licensing for the necessary equipment would begin early next year. It is expected that the modernization work itself will be carried out between 2020 and 2022, with the lifespan of the submarines extended into the 2040’s once it is complete.