Xavier Vavasseur story with additional reporting by Tso Juei Hsu.
While several local news outlets are mentioning the ceremony took place this morning at the CSBC shipyard in Kaohsiung, pictures of the event are yet to be released. Pictures may never be released because of the high level of secrecy and strategic nature of the IDS project.
Local media LTN reported that the shipyard gave the first IDS the factory number “1168”. Pronunciation of 168 in mandarin Chinese, is similar to 一路發 (making money all the way), the number is believed to be a lucky number in Taiwan.
Construction work on IDS started almost exactly one year ago in presence of President Tsai Ing-wen. The Taiwanese President did not attend the keel laying ceremony.
ROC Navy Commander Liu Chi-bin said today during the keel laying ceremony:
The project team is paying attention to construction safety and confidentiality throughout the process. I hope the first submarine will be completed on schedule to meet the expectations and support of the president and the people.
As we previously reported, the IDS will be armed with MK-48 Mod 6 Advanced Technology heavyweight torpedoes, UGM-84L sub-launched Harpoon Block II missiles, and other combat and digital sonar systems provided by US suppliers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, Taiwanese naval officials said. Senior military officers told local media that the submarine will be fitted with ‘high-efficiency batteries developed and produced by domestic manufacturers” instead of an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system. This most likely refers to the use of Lithium Ion battery technology.
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. According to the initial schedule, the design of the prototype will be completed by the end of the year 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.
Taiwan’s current submarine force
The ROC Navy has two ageing Chien Lung-class submarines built in the Netherlands in the 1980ies as well as two “vintage” Hai Shih-class (former U.S. Navy Tench-class SSKs transfered to Taiwan in 1973).
Prior to their transfer to the ROC Navy, the United States sealed up the 10 torpedo tubes ( six forward and four aft ) of the submarines. Rumor has it however that the torpedo tubes were reactivated a long time ago.
The Chien Lung-class is currently fitted with German-made AEG SUT 264 heavyweight torpedoes. Decision to replace the German torpedoes by American ones was made back in 2011. Nine years later, it looks like the deal will finally go through: The United States’ State Department approved a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Taiwan of eighteen MK 48 Mod6 Advanced Technology (AT) Heavyweight Torpedoes (HWT) back in May this year.
Given the age of both classes of submarines (which will almost certainly require some upgrade work, at least in their combat management systems), the MK 48 will likely be intended for Taiwan’s future submarine class which is set to be delivered in just five years (as seemingly “confirmed” by local naval officers).