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Taiwan's torpedo shortage could affect submarine program

Current stock of outdated Indonesian-made weapons inadequate

Illustration of French-made F21 heavy torpedoes. (Twitter, Sankalan Chattopadhyay image)

Illustration of French-made F21 heavy torpedoes. (Twitter, Sankalan Chattopadhyay image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As Taiwan pushes to expand its underwater naval capabilities with an indigenous submarine fleet, a persistent problem lies beneath the surface — a torpedo shortage.

While Taiwan’s first indigenous sub could make its maiden voyage as soon as 2023, it is unclear there will be enough U.S.-made torpedoes delivered in the second half of the decade to fully stock the country’s growing fleet.

In a recent Forbes report, analyst David Axe highlighted Taiwan’s predicament around torpedoes and what may be done about them.

Apart from the upcoming indigenous submarines, Taiwan currently only has two combat-ready underwater vessels — two Dutch Zwaardvis class subs from the 1980s.

The other two submarines in the Taiwan Navy are the U.S.-made Tench- and Balao-class boats, World War 2 relics that are among the world's oldest surviving submarines. Normally, these antiques would have been retired from service long ago, but Taiwan has faced unique barriers in buying new ones, thanks to Chinese pressure on sub-builders not to export subs to the country.

Taiwan has had trouble getting torpedoes too, Axe explained. Its existing stock of roughly 200 Indonesian-made SUT torpedoes are buggy at best, and its pool of Harpoon anti-ship missiles bought from the U.S. in 2008 only number 32 in total.

Though an order of 46 U.S.-made Mark 48 torpedoes is due in 2028, these will just be enough to equip the existing subs but not all the new indigenous vessels that are due to come online between now and 2028, Axe pointed out.

Clearly, the Taiwan Navy will have to find new ways to stock up on torpedoes if the country is to build a meaningful underwater force to deter China’s expanding nuclear submarine fleet.