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Taiwan's domestically built subs could hold off Chinese invasion 'for decades': Analysts

Military analysts say Taiwan's silent diesel-electric submarines could stealthily strike at Chinese invasion force

President Tsai Ing-wen at the Nov. 24 launch of Taiwan's submarine construction project 

President Tsai Ing-wen at the Nov. 24 launch of Taiwan's submarine construction project  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s domestically produced submarines could potentially prevent a Chinese military invasion or blockade for quite some time, according to a CNN report published Sunday (Dec. 20).

Taiwan began construction of a fleet of submarines last month in an effort to boost defensive capabilities, with the first sub ready for sea trials in 2025. The vessels are expected to be diesel-electric, running on diesel engines while surfaced, but using quiet electric motors powered by lithium-ion batteries when submerged, CNN quoted analysts as saying.

China’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) hardware would have a difficult time detecting the silent subs, meaning they could lurk in the depths of the Taiwan Strait and surface only to attack Beijing's military transport ships as they make their way toward Taiwan.

Owen Cote, associate director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on submarine warfare, stated that "Chinese ASW capabilities are weak and the acoustic conditions in these very shallow, noisy waters are very difficult even for advanced ASW capabilities like those deployed by Japan and the US." As a result, Beijing cannot assume it will be able to find and destroy all underwater threats.

Furthermore, Taiwan’s submarines will be armed with various American-made torpedoes, including the Mark 48. This heavyweight projectile is effective “against all targets, in both littoral and deep-water environments,” according to Raytheon.

"Every [large troop carrier] hit by a torpedo, particularly a modern one like the US Mark 48, removes a battalion of troops from the invasion force. So, no one is going to send those amphibious assault ships into the Strait until they are confident it is clear of submarines," said Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain and current analyst at Hawaii Pacific University.

Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, notes that Taiwan has a variety of anti-ship missiles, including the US-made Harpoon missile, as well as naval mines. "Collectively, these assets can make a cross-strait journey very risky for PLAN (People's Liberation Army Navy) vessels and thin out Chinese forces prior to any landing. In essence, submarines give Taiwan's forces one more vector of attack against China's still limited force of amphibious vessels," he said.

"Taiwan's determination to build submarines and invest in its own defense makes it easier for US officials to politically justify helping an island under attack from China since Taiwan is doing what it can to defend itself. By contrast, a Taiwan that did nothing to improve its self-defense capabilities would make it far harder politically for US officials to justify an intervention," Tim Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the RAND Corp think tank, said.

However, the analysts stated that over the long term, Beijing still holds the military advantage as it has numerous submarines, surface ships, ground-launched missiles, air force bombers, and fighter jets in its arsenal, which Taiwan can never outmatch.