Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taiwan To Build Own Diesel Subs

Defense News


Taiwan To Build Own Diesel Subs

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — Taiwan appears to have given up on a 2001 U.S. offer of eight diesel submarines and instead will develop an indigenous vessel, although U.S. technical support may still be needed, a former Taiwan defense official said. An announcement is expected in August, sources here said.

Sources say the move is due to U.S. reluctance to build diesel submarines and the need to create jobs in Taiwan’s economically depressed shipbuilding industry.

“If Pakistan, South Korea and Japan can build a submarine, then Taiwan can do it,” said the former defense official.

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) also plans to upgrade its six French-built LaFayette-class (Kang Ding-class) frigates and procure two additional minesweeper patrol vessels from the United States.

Taiwan procured four U.S. Aggressive-class minehunters in 1994, and there are discussions about acquiring two U.S. Osprey-class coastal minehunters.

The U.S. submarine offer has faced political hurdles here and in Washington. The United States was expected to release a Foreign Military Sales notification for the first phase of the program in 2008, but the release was deferred to the next administration for unknown reasons. The first phase, or design stage, was expected to cost $360 million. The second phase, or build stage, was estimated at $10 billion.

Taiwan’s earlier insistence on new submarines has been a focal point of controversy and complication. The United States has not built new diesel submarines since the Barbel­class in 1959, and Taiwan’s insistence on new boats has only increased the challenge.

The United States offered Taiwan a cost-effective solution in 2003 when Italy offered to sell eight decommissioned Sauro-class diesel submarines for only $2 billion.

Delivery would have begun in 2006 after the United States refurbished the vessels. However, Taiwan rejected the offer and continued to insist on new submarines.

Further complicating the issue, a special budget for submarines was held up in the legislature for six years due to political infighting between elements supporting independence from China and others supporting unification.

“Any move by the Ma administration to examine alternative acquisition routes for diesel submarines should be welcomed,” a former Pentagon official said.

However, many ask whether the self-governing island can build a complex platform like a submarine. “The question is not whether Taiwan can or cannot make submarines. Colombian drug runners can make submarines,” the former Pentagon official said. “The question is, how sophisticated of a submarine could Taiwan industry produce” without U.S. assistance?

Taiwan’s state-owned China Shipbuilding Corp. (CSBC) has successfully built naval vessels. CSBC built eight Perry-class (Cheng Kung­class) frigates under U.S. license in the 1990s and is constructing 29 Kuang Hua VI-class missile boats armed with Hsiung Feng 2 (Brave Wind) anti-ship missiles.

Kaohsiung-based CSBC pushed for an indigenous submarine program in 2001, but was unable to get MND support. The design for the Hidden Dragon Program, later known as the Indigenous Defense Submarine, was based on the Argentinean TR-1700 and the Norwegian Ula-class Type 210.

Taiwan operates four submarines: two Dutch-built submarines from the 1980s and two U.S. Guppy-class submarines built during World War II. The Guppies are the oldest operational submarines in the world. 

Frigate Upgrade

Plans for upgrading the LaFayette frigates are expected to begin in 2011-12, a Taiwan source said.

However, the “French are out” of the upgrade program, the source said. The original 1991 French procurement was mired in scandal after a Taiwan naval officer was murdered and allegations arose that more than $500 million in bribes were paid to French, Taiwanese and mainland Chinese officials.

“The old French system is going to be replaced with a locally designed command-and-control system,” a source said. The Hsiung Feng 2 will remain, but there is debate on what will replace the RIM­72C Sea Chaparral air defense system. Both the Raytheon RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile system and an indigenous naval version of the Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword) air defense system are being discussed.

The military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology produces a variety of missiles, combat systems and radar. The military can also turn to the state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp., which built the Indigenous Defense Fighter aircraft. CSBC has built both military and civilian vessels, and repairs and rebuilds civilian cargo ships and oil tankers.