Monday, January 28, 2013
Taiwan's Quest for a Modern Submarine Fleet..Part I
This week's visit by a US Congressional Delegation to a Taiwanese naval base in Kaohsiung has renewed speculation that Taipei has not given up its desire to acquire new submarines to add to its naval arsenal. This week the delegation, led by the House chairman on Foreign Affairs, Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), visited the Tsoying naval base in the southern port city of Khaosuing, and toured a Taiwanese "guppy class" sea lion (海獅級 -guppy II). The submarine toured is a decommissioned training sub that was produced in the 1940s, and one of only four currently in service for the Taiwanese navy.
The issue of Taipei's actual level of interest in committing high levels of capital into the acquisition of new submarines, as well as the reluctance of the United States and other countries to provide the vessels and/or the technology to allow Taiwan to produce them themselves, is a story that has dragged on for over a decade.
A Congressional Research Service Report compiled by Shirley Kan, and published in 2012, titled "Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990 stated that in 2000, the Pentagon reportedly conducted a classified assessment of Taiwan's naval defense needs titled "Taiwan Naval Modernization", and it was said to have found that Taiwan's navy need a wide array of platform upgrades and modernization, including new submarines. Shortly following this report in 2001, President Bush approved Taiwan's request for 8 diesel-electric submarines, along with Mark-48 ASW torpedoes and 44 Harpoon submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missiles, as part of a larger arms sale package.
Following Presidential approval, there were a number of questions that needed to be answered: Where would the submarines be built? (The American navy is now exclusively comprised of nuclear-class subs, and no longer has an active industry for building diesel-class subs) Was there a viable risk of classified technology transfer to the PRC as a result of espionage? And finally, would the Legislative Yuan in Taiwan have the commitment to fund such an expensive project?
The 2012 CSR states that in December 2002, Secretary of the Navy Gordon England informed Congress that bidding on the submarine contract would be limited to four US companies and the diesel subs would be of U.S. origin. It appeared at this point that the Pentagon and members of Congress were satisfied with the safeguards (which are not known) Taiwan would implement following the transfer of the finished submarines, protecting sensitive military technology from being transferred to other states, particularly China.
A roadblock for the sale came in 2003, when Washington and Taipei found themselves far apart on the actual start-up costs for the program. The CSR states that the US placed the figure at $333 million, while Taiwan offered $28.5 million. The Bush Administration looked for other alternatives, such as purchasing decommissioned submarines from third-party nations, Taiwan held firm on their desire for new subs.
Another issue that hindered a potential sale was that a number of Legislative Yuan members in Taiwan wished to see the new submarines built in Taipei, even though this would raise the total cost of the program an additional $2.5 billion dollars, and raise concerns in Washington about potential sensitive technology leaks during the construction phase. Finally in 2006, the sale appeared to meet a brick wall, with the CSR stating that papers in Washington circulated stating that the US Navy "failed to effectively implement the diesel sub program for Taiwan, in part to protect the nuclear-powered submarine capability."
Taiwan then looked at acquiring a new submarine fleet by attempting a new method in which it could first acquire a sub design, then looked to construct the vessel domestically. While the United States wanted Taiwan to commit to either a "design phase" or a full procurement of submarines, Taiwan would only commit to a "feasibility study", according to the CSR.
It appeared that the purchase would finally be confirmed in 2008, when Ma Ying-Jeou became President, who had previously stated his support of the project. Since this time, however, both President Bush, and his successor, President Obama, have failed to notify Congress about the submarine design program. Even though Taiwan has yet to receive the final American Congressional approval for the purchase, Taipei has still held firm in its desire to eventually acquire what it feels are desperately needed upgrades to its Navy.
Part II: Can Taiwan finally modernize its submarine fleet?