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Taiwan: Prospects for the first indigenously developed submarine Hai Kun

According to forecasts by Taiwanese government officials, the first of eight planned next-generation Hai Kun-class submarines will soon be handed over to the domestic navy.

According to articles in Taiwan’s Liberty Times, published on January 17 and January 18, Taiwanese government officials cited positive forecasts for the prototype of Hai Kun-class submarine, which is currently undergoing Harbor Acceptance Tests (HAT) and is expected to start Sea Acceptance Tests (SAT) after 10 February.

Photo: Office of the President of the Republic of China

According to the information provided, the Hai Kun prototype will carry out sea tests, but its transfer to the Republic of China Navy (Zhōnghuá Mínguó Hǎijūn) will not be impossible before May 20, when the inauguration of the new president of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te, will take place, who will replace Tsai Ing-wen in the office.

The christening and launching ceremony of the Hai Kun prototype took place on September 28, 2023, and according to the schedule, the handover to the navy was to take place by the end of 2024, after completion of acceptance tests. This information shows that the testing schedule and submarine construction plans are moving very quickly, but will Hai Kun maintain a positive future outlook for the Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) program?

The director of the Defense Security Research Institute (DSRI) noted that Taiwan needs at least eight submarines, but sixteen would be optimal. If we had eight new submarines, there are three units that can perform missions, three that can be used for training and two that can undergo maintenance, so at least 8-16 units are needed to meet the demand for combat capabilities in Taiwan’s maritime area, he said.

Taiwanese authorities continue to develop further plans for the IDS program and estimate that the remaining seven units will likely be built in three phases: 3+2+2. According to internal estimates of the Armed Forces, the cost of serial submarines in the first stage will be 80% of the cost of building the Hai Kun prototype. The construction cost of Hai Kun is estimated at TWD 25.6 billion, and the price of the first serial submarine is estimated at TWD 20 billion. The costs of the IDS program were estimated at TWD 50 billion, as it included the entire cost of acquiring technology from abroad.

Former commander of the Taiwanese Navy, and previously commander of the submarine force, Huang Shu-kuang revealed the total cost of the program in June 2023: it is 49.362 billion TWD for the prototype, but 62% of them, 30.7 billion TWD was spent on investments related to infrastructure and technologies (expansion of the shipyard, purchase of equipment and technology), and 5% of it was allocated to the purchase of Mark 48 Mod 6 heavy torpedoes in the USA.

Photo: Office of the President of the Republic of China

In summary, Taiwan currently has a shipyard capable of building submarines, owned by the CSBC Corporation (formerly known as China Shipbuilding Corporation) in Kaohsiung, and technologies, so the production of additional ships will be possible if a stable budget is guaranteed and investment inflows, and the Hai Kun prototype will also be delivered this year.

However, while Taiwan’s policy has been to maintain information security, some purchase reports and confidential data have been leaked to communist China by some defense companies and politicians, so Beijing is putting pressure on foreign companies trading with Taiwan, which may require the authorities in Taipei finding additional partners after 2025.

Additionally, Taiwan’s submarine program remains threatened by a lack of stable budget financing, hostility from China’s criticism and political disputes between the ruling and opposition parties, and many commenters argue that concerns about the program are emerging so quickly that authorities will have to guarantee additional financing from internal and external sources to complete it in full range.


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