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Taiwan to unveil first domestically built submarine

Taiwan unveils its first homegrown submarine, aiming to bolster defenses against China amidst increasing military and political pressure. China claims Taiwan as its territory, intensifying tensions.

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TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Taiwan will unveil its first domestically built submarine on Thursday, with the massively outgunned island seeking to bolster its defences against China.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, and has in the past year stepped up military and political pressure, ramping up the number of warplane incursions around the island while diplomatically isolating it.

Taiwan has increased defence spending — allotting a record US$19 billion for 2024 — to acquire military equipment, particularly from its key ally the United States, but its quest to obtain a submarine has faced obstacles.

President Tsai Ing-wen — strongly opposed by Beijing for her refusal to accept China’s authority over the island — launched a submarine programme in 2016 with the aim of delivering a fleet of eight vessels.

Construction on the first started in 2020 by the island’s CSBC Corporation, a company specialising in container ships and military vessels, and it will be unveiled by Tsai in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

Carrying a price tag of US$1.5 billion, the submarine’s displacement weight is about 2,500 to 3,000 tons, with its combat systems and torpedoes sourced from the US defence company Lockheed Martin.

“The submarine will have a fairly significant impact on Taiwan’s defence strategy,” said Ben Lewis, a US-based independent analyst who focuses on the Chinese military’s movements around the island.

“The biggest risk is to the PLA’s (People’s Liberation Army’s) amphibious assault and troop transport capabilities,” he told AFP, referring to China’s military.

“They have practised extensively the use of civilian vessels to augment their existing troop delivery platforms, and a submarine could wreak havoc on vessels not designed for naval warfare.”

The submarine will still need at least three years to become operational, said Zivon Wang, a military analyst at Taipei-based think tank the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies.

“The launch… does not mean that 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.”

China’s state-run Global Times on Monday published an op-ed saying Taiwan’s submarine deployment plan to block the PLA was “daydreaming”.

“The plan is just an illusion of the island attempting to resist reunification by force,” it said.

Last week, China flew 103 warplanes around Taiwan, which the island’s defence ministry said was among the highest in recently recorded incursions, decrying the “destructive unilateral actions”.

Beijing has also sent reconnaissance drones to the eastern side of Taiwan — a move that analysts have said could spell trouble for the island’s military bases there.

— AFP

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