The Obama Administration Has blocked new Subs for Taiwan
The latest word is that the United States government has told Taiwan it won’t help them acquire new submarines or new submarine technology they can use to build their own. The Obama administration has reversed decisions made by previous administration –Republican and Democrat. Instead the Obama administration is offering to help Taiwan modernize its existing Dutch submarines.
Today Taiwan has a “fleet” of only four submarines. Two of them are ancient Guppy II class submarines, a submarine developed during World War II. These submarines date, at the latest, from the early 1960’s. They have no value except as familiarization platforms for aspiring submariners.
The other two are Dutch Zwaardvis submarines Taiwan acquired in the 1980’s. The design itself is based on the US Barbel class. Three of these were built in the early 1950’s. One was scuttled and used for target practice and the other two scrapped.
The Dutch Zwaardvis technologically comes from this era, although the two that Taiwan bought were manufactured in the 1980’s. That makes them over 30 years old –an eon of time in submarine quieting and command and control electronics.
The US has offered to help modernize these two boats -essentially to give them updated combat systems and perhaps better sonar. That won’t do much to quiet them down, since to make the submarines quieter would require re-engineering the propulsion system from top to bottom, front to back, and modernizing the hull.
Even as much as modernizing these platforms is something needed, Taiwan is at a massive disadvantage if that modernization occurs without having new submarines on station before the modernization begins. The reason: a modernization will take two to three years per platform, or even more depending on what problems arise, meaning they need to plan on four years. The US has no experience whatever working on the Zwaardvis, which means a lot of guesswork about its power system, its physical characteristics, the subs plumbing and a lot more. Furthermore the US knows nothing about its combat characteristics, so adapting new systems to it is a pig in a poke.
Worse yet, Taiwan’s submarine “fleet” operationally will be cut in half during the period of modernization, meaning that its defensive combat missions will be far below anything acceptable or desirable. One can add to that the loss of crew training and effectiveness, absent one submarine for three or four years.
There are two factors making matters worse. The first is that China is increasingly aggressive as shown by their military expansion in the South China Sea. Furthermore the Chinese regime hates the new Taiwan government, not only because of its pro-China stand, but also because there will be less investment and technology flowing from Taiwan to China under the DPP government. China makes its living sucking up other people’s technology, and Taiwan has been a big contributor. But that is something that may be in the past. So no one can predict what China’s next aggressive move might be.
Taiwan needs a capable submarine that can face Chinese subs that threaten Taiwan’s freedom of navigation and, with the rest of China’s navy and air force, could threaten to choke off Taiwan from outside help. The time of US aircraft carriers ostensibly rushing to the rescue are, these days, more mythological than real. The latest decisions of the Obama administration on Taiwan’s submarines points to a future of inconstancy, risk and grave danger.
So what to do? Before Taiwan embarks on modernization of the Zwaardvis class subs, it must procure replacements. That means finding some used submarines to take their place. In the longer term it means local production of submarines in Taiwan, but that is a decade out or more and Taiwan cannot wait that long.
The new Taiwan government has not yet wrapped its thought around the reality that confronts them, and unfortunately there is evidence they also are not realistic and don’t listen to advice. If Taiwan is going to survive, they best rethink their position and fix their problem.
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