TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Geopolitical analyst Uwe Parpart has thrown doubt on the efficacy of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program, saying the vessels will likely be “sitting ducks in shallow waters.”
In an interview with Asia Times, Parpart points out that the Taiwan Strait is roughly 50 meters deep in most places and that modern anti-submarine warfare systems will be able to detect Taiwan’s new subs easily. This would rob the country's nascent fleet of the element of surprise so vital in submarine warfare.
A recent Reuters report revealed Taiwan has assembled a cosmopolitan team to work on the project while sourcing components from across the world. Engineers, technicians, and former naval officers from Australia, South Korea, India, Spain, and Canada have been quietly working away on the first indigenous sub at a shipyard in Kaohsiung.
A number of foreign firms have supplied various technologies needed for the subs with the express consent of their governments. Yet Parpart hints this diversity could create problems further down the road.
While Taiwan has the hi-tech manufacturing skills to build a sub, it needs a well-integrated design that accomplishes a clear mission. Having so many suppliers could make this harder to do, create delays, and risk building hodgepodge vessels that cannot perform very specific functions.
Another analyst, David Axle, recently pointed out that Taiwan is having issues purchasing enough torpedoes to arm its future subs. Though it has some 200 Indonesian-made SUT torpedoes, these are buggy at best, while the new order of 46 U.S.-made Mark 48 torpedoes will not arrive until 2028 and likely be insufficient in number.
Analysts and submarine veterans cited by Reuters, however, say that Taiwan’s new subs could pose a real threat to the PLA Navy.
By waiting in the deep underwater trenches off Taiwan’s east coast, they could ensure ports stay open along the eastern coastline, which would be vital for resupplying during a conflict. When China’s invasion armada attempts to cross the strait, they could also launch deadly strikes against convoy vessels, sinking Chinese forces before they set foot on Taiwan’s beaches.
Yet Parpart doubts this assessment.“Maybe they will deploy on the other side of Taiwan, the Pacific-facing side… But there, the capabilities on the Chinese side are overwhelming. It would be a suicide mission,” he says.
Regardless of the eventual efficacy of the program, Taiwan is likely to double down on its effort to build better subs, if for no other reason than to deter further aggressive moves by China near its waters. Recent reports of Chinese nuclear subs surfacing in the strait remind Taipei of the existential risk the PLA Navy poses to the country.