On November 17, chief of staff of the Taiwan (ROC) Navy, Vice Admiral Mei Jia-shu (梅家樹), announced at a Legislative Yuan (LY) hearing—Taiwan’s parliament—that open tender for the Navy’s long-awaited indigenous submarine (IDS) program is beginning this week (November 22) with plans to award the IDS contract before the end of 2016.
According to Vice Admiral Mei, the primary contractor will be a domestic manufacturer and be required to submit a plan for the selection and provision of primary and essential equipment requirements nine months after being awarded the IDS contract. After which, the Navy will conduct a review, specifically to assess export licensing requirements. The Navy plans to complete the assessment and equipment selection within 15 months after the contract has been effective, with the possibility that the contract design phase would be complete in 2017.
Towards this end, the Taiwan Navy announced that it has allocated US $92.6 million (NT$2.97 billion) in 2016 towards the design phase of the IDS contract and US $24.6 million (NT $790 million) in 2017, for an estimated total of US $117.2 million. The announced budget tracks with reports earlier this year that CSBC Corporation (台灣國際造船), which established a Submarine Development Center (SDC) in August, will produce a design for the IDS under a budget of $95 million by the end of 2016. Although there are multiple contractors reportedly vying for the IDS contract, some indicators point to CSBC Corp. as the presumptive primary contractor for Taiwan’s IDS.
Two submarine models were on display at the First Annual Kaohsiung International Maritime & Defense exhibit held in the southern port city in September, leading to speculation that the model for the IDS may be similar to the Zwaardvis-class submarines developed by the Netherlands and currently deployed by the ROC Navy. With a displacement of 2,600 tons, the possible decision to go with this known design may be influenced by the desire to minimize production risks. Also on display was a model for a 350-ton submarine that is capable of being equipped with two torpedoes, and which has a depth rating of over 100 meters (328 feet). This model is similar in tonnage to Iran’s Nahang-class submarines used most effectively to lay mines.
Taiwan has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to acquire new submarines to replace its aging fleet for decades. Following the unprecedented arms package worth US $18 billion offered by President George W. Bush in 2001, which included a US commitment to assist Taiwan in its acquisition of diesel-electric submarines, Taipei’s efforts to procure submarines have languished due to political gridlock and bureaucratic roadblocks. The Taiwan Relations Act (1979), Third Joint Communique (1982), and the Six Assurances (1982) serve as the framework for US arms sales to Taiwan. Against the backdrop of the People’s Liberation Army’s military modernization, which has increased its lethality and scale over the past 15 years, continued arms sales to Taiwan is arguably justified and in fact necessary to maintain the military balance in the Taiwan Strait in both quantitative and qualitative terms.
The IDS design phase is a critical period in which requirements for Taiwan’s future indigenous submarines will be set. The TRA requires the United States to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability” and such decisions should be based on military rather than political considerations.
Given the extensive R&D costs associated with developing and providing for all requirements indigenously, in order for IDS to be viable Taipei would necessarily need to acquire intellectual property, selected technologies, and engineering consulting from abroad. Speaking at the annual US-Taiwan Business Council conference in October, David Helvey, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, observed: “the US government does not own much of the technology Taiwan seeks for its domestic industry, necessitating close cooperation between Taiwan and US defense contractors to establish new relationships and new lines of collaboration.” Indeed, as it has reportedly done with Taiwan’s submarine life extension program for submarine combat systems and other submarine-related work, Washington could and should offer the necessary export licenses and technical assistance to support Taipei’s IDS program.
The main point: The Taiwan Navy plans to complete the assessment and equipment selection for the IDS program within 15 months from when the contract is awarded, with the possibility that the contract design phase would be complete in 2017. Washington could and should offer the necessary export licenses and technical assistance to support Taipei’s IDS program.