On Thursday, Taiwan displayed its first domestically made submarine in an effort to reinforce defences against China, which has denounced the move as “idiotic nonsense” due to the island’s overwhelming military disadvantage.
In the past year, China has increased the number of incursions by warplanes surrounding self-ruled Taiwan and diplomatically isolated it since it claims the island as part of its sovereignty.
Despite increasing its defence budget to an all-time high of $19 billion in 2024 in order to purchase military equipment, especially from its critical partner the United States, Taiwan has run into difficulty in its efforts to buy a submarine.
Despite heavy opposition from Beijing, President Tsai Ing-wen announced a submarine plan in 2016 with the goal of delivering a fleet of eight vessels by the end of the decade.
Kaohsiung, a port city in southern Taiwan, played host to the unveiling ceremony for the first prototype of the “Narwhal,” whose Chinese name translates to “mythical sea creature.”
Tsai, standing in front of the ship flying Taiwan’s flag, proclaimed, “History will forever remember this day.”
“Making submarines in the United States used to be a ‘Mission Impossible’ endeavour. We did it, she proclaimed, as a submarine created by indigenous people is now on display for all to see.
The company’s chairman, Cheng Wen-lon, called the seven-year construction process “a magical weapon in asymmetric warfare” and claimed the company’s employees worked around the clock to complete the project. CSBC Corp specialised in producing shipping containers and military vessels.
The US Navy-supplied fighting equipment and torpedoes on the 80-meter long Hai Kun are courtesy of Lockheed Martin. The ship’s displacement is between 2,500 and 3,000 tonnes.
Tsai claims Hai Kun will be operational by 2025 after completing sea trials, however other defence analysts suggest it could take much longer.
Two Swordfish-class submarines, purchased from the Netherlands in the 1980s, are now operational in the Taiwanese navy.
In 2001, Washington gave its preliminary OK to a deal to supply eight conventional submarines, but the sale never went through. During this same time span, China has amassed a nuclear-powered navy with aircraft carriers and submarines.
China’s defence ministry called Taiwan’s plan to use a submarine to deter an encirclement by Chinese forces “idiotic nonsense” on Thursday.
The People’s Liberation Army, as the Chinese military is formally known, has a “strong ability to defend national sovereignty,” according to spokesman Wu Qian. “No matter how many weapons (Tsai’s administration) build or purchase, they cannot stop the general trend of national reunification,” Wu Qian said.
The US Department of Defence estimates that China has over 60 submarines, six of which are nuclear-powered and armed with ballistic missiles, giving them a significant numerical advantage over Taiwan’s relatively young submarine force.
However, Jiang Hsin-biao of Taiwan’s Institute for National Defence and Security Research argued that even stationing submarines in strategic waterways, such as the Bashi Channel and the passage east of Taiwan leading to Japan’s Okinawa Islands, would be enough to give China problems.
Jiang remarked that this would prevent an encirclement and attack on Taiwan by the PLA from the east and west.
Submarine assaults are the number one concern of surface ships. Submarines are effective deterrents because they make enemy formations difficult to defend.
The submarine will threaten China’s amphibious assault and troop transport capabilities, according to Ben Lewis, an independent specialist in the United States who studies Chinese military activity around Taiwan.
They are quite experienced at employing civilian vessels to supplement their existing troop distribution platforms; a submarine would wreak havoc on these ships.
There is still a long way to go before it is “combat capable,” according to Zivon Wang, a military analyst at the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei.
According to the statement, “the launch… does not mean Taiwan will become very powerful right away, but it is a crucial element of Taiwan’s defence strategy and a part of our efforts to build deterrence capabilities.”
According to Taiwan’s defence ministry, Beijing sent 103 aeroplanes to fly around the island last week, making it one of the largest intrusions in recent memory. Analysts say the deployment of reconnaissance drones to the island’s eastern edge might cause problems for Taiwan’s military sites in that region.