China Threat – Taiwan’s Narwhal Submarine Signals a Shift in Regional Defense Dynamics

President Tsai's Submarine Vision Becomes Reality with Narwhal Unveiling. Taiwan's Answer to Defending Its Sovereignty.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Every island nation needs to ensure that their naval forces are both efficient and up to date if they wish to preserve their national security.

This is especially true for Taiwan, which is continuously facing the direct threat posed by China, whose naval fleet is considered the largest in the world.

In response to the persistent violations of its airspace and maritime boundaries by Chinese ships and planes, it should be no surprise that Taipei is investing in its security and investigating various alternatives for its defence.

The programme to design and build their attack submarine is crucial in the country’s larger defence modernisation strategy. This project will take some time, but it became important in the early years of the new century. When this occurred, it became abundantly evident that the nation required an expansion and modernisation of its underwater fleet, as, at that time, it only possessed four technologically antiquated submarines. World War II saw the production of two of them in that period.

Taiwan decided to invest in its development rather than seek a complicated solution to purchase refurbished second-hand models from the United States, Italy, or Japan. This was done to meet the particular requirements of Taiwan’s naval forces.

At an official event on September 27, President Tsai Ing-wen unveiled the first of eight new submarines slated to be built. This demonstrates that efforts are already yielding dividends. Codenamed Narwhal, the submarine measures 230 feet long and displaces approximately 3,000 tonnes.

Taiwan’s-New-Submarine-Narwhal. Images: MND R.O.C

Tsai has stated that the submarine materialises Taiwan’s special commitment to defending the country.

Additionally, it is an essential new asset for the fleet in terms of the development of methods for asymmetrical warfare. She went on to say that many people in the past said that the country couldn’t develop its very own submarine, yet Taiwan was successful.

The celebration marked a momentous occasion for President Tsai, who was there. She is the one who prioritised defence policy above all else when it came to the construction of Taiwan’s submarine, and shortly after taking office in 2016, she increased the program’s funding by a factor of two.

The first model, “Hai Kun,” is related to a local sea monster mythology. The legend is said to have occurred in China. All required sea trials are anticipated to be completed within the next two years and will go into service in 2025. Around that time, the tests will determine the status of the next model in the class.

The particulars of the submarine’s technical makeup are still a closely guarded secret, but it is common knowledge that diesel engines propel it. Reuters found that its development featured the contribution of technology from private firms in the United States and the United Kingdom and the expertise and engineering of individuals from Australia, South Korea, India, Spain, and Canada.

It is thought that Lockheed Martin is the company that supplies some of the armament and sonar systems.

Foreign cooperation is especially problematic because of the country’s uncertain standing in international relations. Only 14 countries worldwide maintain official diplomatic relations with it, and practically all are small island nations in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

The reason for this is that Beijing gives a hostile response to any initiatives that are taken to establish official relations with Taipei. A good illustration of this would be the transaction in the 1980s in which the Netherlands sold two of the four submarines that Taiwan presently has. This resulted in a diplomatic incident, which culminated in a pledge made by the Netherlands to refrain from selling arms to Taiwan in the future.

The example demonstrates the difficulties an island nation faces while attempting to modernise its military and the reasons why the nation had no choice but to pursue creating its own submarines.

First Narwhal Class Submarine - Hai Kun
First Narwhal Class Submarine – Hai Kun

Using the same reasoning, the nation is working on a programme to create combat drones and anti-ship missiles as part of its strategy for potentially engaging in asymmetric warfare.

Their adversary enjoys a considerable advantage over them in every respect regarding Taiwan, making it extremely improbable that they will achieve a decisive triumph. As a result, the objective is to cause as much damage as is humanly possible, thereby transforming a potential invasion into an expensive endeavour that is not worth the resources invested.

Why does Taiwan require such a large number of submarines? In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Admiral Huang Shu-Kuan, the commander of the Taiwanese Navy, emphasised that the mission’s objective is to stop China from imposing a blockade on the island. The Chinese military will want to cut Taiwan off from the rest of the world completely. He said that submarines would assist Taiwan in obstructing them and would buy time for the United States, Japan, and other countries to step in and support them.

Tsai Ing-wen has already served two terms and is ineligible to seek again; yet, the beliefs of her Democratic Progressive Party, which she leads, on Taiwan’s complete sovereignty and independence are embodied in the submarine programme.

The presence of Hai Kun is certain to affect the presidential campaign and debates with the Kuomintang, the second largest party in the country, which favours a peaceful road to unification with China.


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