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Navy chief defies calls from KMT to freeze submarine building budget

KMT lawmakers flag risk of budget blowout, torpedo decoy deal scuppered by Turkey

Submariners take in view as chopper hovers above one of Taiwan's Zwaardvis-class subs. 

Submariners take in view as chopper hovers above one of Taiwan's Zwaardvis-class subs.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan Navy head Chiang Cheng-kuo (蔣正國) said the country’s domestic submarine program must forge ahead despite pushback from opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislators who are calling for a budget freeze on the program.

Chiang said a total of 107 equipment export permits have been obtained and that 2022 will see payments for the project peak. It will be a critical time for assembling all the various components needed, according to a Liberty Times report.

Although the going has not always been smooth, the toughest obstacles have already been overcome, Chiang added. His comments came as the Legislative Yuan’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee reviewed the sub-building budget for next year.

KMT legislators have called for next year’s budget to be frozen, complaining that urgently-= needed upgrades to Taiwan’s Dutch-made Zwaardvis ("Swordfish")-class subs have been delayed for over three years.

KMT legislators Ma Wen-jun (馬文君), Wen Yu-hsia (溫玉霞), Chen Yi-hsin (陳以信) said a freeze is needed since there are doubts about whether the main defense contractor overseeing the project can integrate the vessel’s various systems. Only after the Ministry of Defense has released a formal progress report should the budget be approved, they contend.

Ma claimed the project is only 20% complete. The fact that Turkey recently scuppered a deal to sell Taiwan torpedo decoys, among other setbacks, has led to increasing concerns about its feasibility, he added.

According to the budget, Taiwan’s Navy has set aside more than NT$49.3 billion (US$1.77 billion) from 2019 to 2025 to build submarine prototypes. More than NT$9.5 billion will be spent next year.

The back-and-forth over the budget is the latest in a wave of recent news about Taiwan’s submarines.

Reuters revealed that a team of engineers and submariners from around the world had been assembled by Taiwan, a testament to its increasing international clout. Engineers, technicians, and former naval officers from Australia, South Korea, India, Spain, and Canada have been quietly working at shipyards in Kaohsiung in an attempt to keep off China’s radar.

Reuters’ sources reported the submarines will give Taiwan a powerful underwater deterrent and could neutralize Chinese vessels as they cross the Taiwan Strait during an amphibious assault. Other analysts have said they would be little more than “sitting ducks in shallow water.”

Yet others point out a torpedo shortage could undermine the project entirely. Although Taiwan has about 200 Indonesian-made SUT torpedoes, they are prone to misfiring, while a new order of 46 American torpedoes will only arrive in 2028, and will not be enough to arm all the new subs coming online in the next few years.

There has been an ongoing discussion among the government ministries and defense experts about whether Taiwan should try to accelerate the project. The difficulty lies in securing what the Ministry of Defense calls “red coded" components.

These include digital sonars, periscopes, torpedoes, torpedo tubes, and other combat equipment, according to Naval News. Taiwan relies on foreign countries, mainly the U.S., to supply these parts.

The periscope could either be a stripped-down version of Type 8 and 18 electro-optical periscopes from the Los Angeles-class sub or an export version of the AN/BVS-1 optronic system from the Virginia-class, according to periscope experts interviewed by Naval News. It is likely the periscopes will be resized since Taiwan’s subs are smaller than average.

Updated : 2022-05-28 03:05 GMT+08:00