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Deep dive into Taiwan’s secret submarine project

Project aided by technology and experts from Australia, Canada, South Korea, India, Spain, UK, and US

Spindrift dissipates into the air as Taiwan's current Hai Lung diesel-electric submarine surfaces from beneath the waves. 

Spindrift dissipates into the air as Taiwan's current Hai Lung diesel-electric submarine surfaces from beneath the waves.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan has been secretly collaborating with at least seven countries over the past few years to build its indigenous submarine fleet.

An investigative report from Reuters reveals cutting-edge tech components and the brightest minds in submarine design have been involved in the project, which has maintained a low profile to keep off China’s radar.

Engineers, technicians, and former naval officers from Australia, South Korea, India, Spain, and Canada have been quietly working away at shipyards in Kaohsiung, where the subs are being made.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has provided core technological components, and some former British naval officers have provided key support too.

Though Taiwan has collaborated with foreign firms rather than officially with other country’s militaries, export approvals for key parts were all approved by those firms’ national governments once the project got underway.

The united effort from such an international team reflects the West’s increasing concern over Chinese military expansionism and the pressure Beijing is putting on Taiwan, foreign diplomats quoted by Reuters say.

“Taiwan isn’t really that lonely,” said one person with knowledge of the program. “Given all the export permits we managed to get, we know that many countries are helping.”

Despite this, firms from Taiwan’s former colonizers — the Netherlands and Japan — as well as Germany all either declined to get involved or pulled out for fear of offending China.

Taiwan’s submarines will be vital in helping allied forces keep the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) hemmed in within the first island chain in the event of a war, experts say.

Loaded with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, the subs could hide in wait in deep underwater trenches off Taiwan’s east coast in the lead-up to an amphibious assault. Then, when China’s invasion armada attempts to cross the strait, it could launch deadly strikes against convoy vessels, sinking Chinese forces before they set foot on Taiwan’s beaches.

Yet simply building the submarines will not be enough. As a recent article by defense analyst David Axle shows, Taiwan faces a coming shortage of torpedoes for its new fleet.

The country is likely to double down on efforts to prepare its underwater fleet as news of Chinese nuclear subs surfacing in the Taiwan Strait reminds its defense establishment of the existential risk the PLAN poses to the country.