Taiwan launches first domestically-made submarine amid growing tensions

Taiwan has unveiled its inaugural domestically-produced submarine as it reinforces its defenses against potential threats, particularly from China. President Tsai Ing-wen presided over the launch ceremony held in the port city of Kaohsiung.

The move comes amid warnings from US officials that China could be militarily capable of launching an invasion of Taiwan within the next few years. Taiwan, a self-governing island, is viewed by China as a renegade province that it aims to reclaim someday. While most observers believe that an immediate attack is unlikely, China has consistently increased military pressure on Taiwan through drills and military posturing.

The newly launched $1.54 billion diesel-electric powered submarine, named the Haikun after a mythical flying fish, is the first of its kind and will undergo various tests before being delivered to the navy by the end of 2024. Taiwan ultimately plans to operate a fleet of 10 submarines, including two older Dutch-made vessels, and equip them with missiles to bolster its defenses.

Building its submarines has been a long-standing priority for Taiwan, with the program gaining momentum under President Tsai’s administration, which significantly increased military spending during her tenure. The head of the domestic submarine program, Admiral Huang Shu-kuang, stated that the goal is to deter any potential Chinese encirclement, invasion, or naval blockade.

China has reacted strongly to Taiwan’s efforts, with a defense ministry spokesperson dismissing them as “idiotic nonsense” and asserting that “no amount of weapons” can prevent reunification with China. Chinese state media has labeled Taiwan’s submarine program as “daydreaming” and an “illusion.”

While Taiwan’s 10-submarine fleet is considerably smaller than China’s, which boasts over 60 boats, these submarines could play a strategic role in Taiwan’s defense strategy. By conducting guerrilla-style warfare with their stealth capabilities, these submarines could help protect vital sea lanes and areas around Taiwan. This move aligns with Taiwan’s approach of building a more agile defense force to counterbalance China’s superior resources.

The effectiveness of these submarines will depend on how Taiwan chooses to deploy them, with some experts suggesting that they could be used for ambushes, mine-laying operations, disrupting maritime supplies, and targeting key facilities on the Chinese coastline. Additionally, the fact that Taiwan was able to design and build its own submarine reflects a significant geopolitical shift, with several countries and companies contributing components and technology, indicating doubts and dissatisfaction with Beijing’s actions in the international community.