Tso-Juei Hsu story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
On January 29, 2021, Taiwanese media, Liberty Times Net quoted an anonymous government official saying that because of worsening Taiwan-China relations, top officials are looking at speeding up the construction schedule of the Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS). The plan would be to finish the construction as early as possible all while keeping high construction quality standards.
The top officials are said they expect the launch of the prototype to take place in the second half of 2023, followed by sea trials and delivery to the Republic of China Navy in 2024. They would submit the proposal for mass-production and the special budget request to parliament in order to secure the budget with less difficulty, while president Tsai Ing-wen is still in office and DPP still have majority in the parliament.
But on March 11, another Taiwanese media, Up Media, quote an anonymous source, criticizing the consideration to speed up the IDS project. The anonymous source said that European countries and Australia encountered difficulties of integrating all new systems when developing their new submarines. Taiwan is developing a submarine for the first time, Taiwan must do it carefully and steady, shall not be eager to show the achievement.
“Red zone” technologies
The ROC Ministry of National Defense told media that the technologies and components Taiwan needed to design and build its own submarines are divided into three categories, and are color coded red, yellow and green.
The technologies and components which Taiwan is unable to research and develop or manufacture and must rely on import, are color coded red. The yellow ones are difficult to obtain, but has certain parts that can be manufactured locally. And the green ones are those can be easily produced in Taiwan.
Red Zone equipment include combat system integration, digital sonar systems, optronic masts (periscopes), torpedoes, torpedo tubes and other combat equipment and diesel engines and other important platform equipment.
Taiwanese media reported that U.S. may approve the export license of the “red zone” technologies several times since December 2020. On December 2, Art Chang (張忠誠), president of the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) told legislators that Taiwan is likely to acquire two key components next month from U.S., the components are integrated combat system and digital sonar system. Later on December 16, Vice Defense Minister Chang Che-ping (張哲平) said that the United States has approved an export license for the digital sonar system.
On March 16, 2021,Taiwan’s newly-appointed Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正), spoke in the parliament and confirmed the US’ approval of export licenses for all “red zone” military technologies used in IDS program. But he also said that there is no timetable for the delivery of these systems, the schedule shall follow the procedure, the military has put a great emphasis on it, and will complete it step by step following laws and procedures.
Which periscopes system ?
Contacted by Naval News, submarine masts expert Richard W. Stirn explained that there is likely only two types of masts which could be transferred from the United States to Taiwan:
I would say it is possible that the periscopes being sent to Taiwan for their IDS could be older Type 8 and 18 electro-optical periscopes from the Los Angeles-class surplus or a stripped down export version of the AN/BVS-1 optronic system from the Virginia-class
Asked if these mast would need modification to fit in the “much smaller” IDS submarine, Stirn explained that “Type 8 and 18 masts have been installed on Indian Type 209 submarines so, some reworking is possible”. He added “the AN/BVS-1 has been installed on the Dutch Walrus class and, at least one, Egyptian Type 033 Romeo-class. So export is also possible thought it is a stripped down version of it”. Both types of masts were manufactured by Kollmorgen (now known as L-3 subsidiary “Kollmorgen Electro-Optical” or KEO).
About Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) Project
The ROC Navy and local shipyard China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC) signed a construction contract for a prototype submarine as part of the Indigenous Defense Submarine project (IDS) in May 2019. Construction started in November 2020 and its delivery to the ROC Navy is expected for 2025.
According to Covert Shores, the new design builds on the Hai Lung class, keeping a similar form but deviating notably by X-form rudders and a more contemporary sail. This implies that it will be double-hulled with a relatively conventional internal arrangement.
The new design appears to be based on the Dutch design heritage, which makes sense as Taiwan operates two Dutch designed boats. The fitting of new battery technologies, probably lithium-ion, will put the design into the upper tier of non-nuclear submarines. Other countries are also building submarines with these battery technologies, notably Japan, South Korea and Italy. Navies have been slow to adopt lithium-ion batteries for submarines due to safety concerns, They are too prone to fire. Countries which are pushing ahead with this technology however believe that they have solved this problem. For Taiwan, coming in fresh, this may be a fresh challenge however.
H I Sutton from Covert Shores.