Taiwan’s national defense, the island democracy revealed its first domestically developed submarine, named “Narwhal,” at a ceremony held at a shipyard in Kaohsiung on September 28, 2023. This achievement comes at a pivotal time as Taiwan faces a rising danger from Beijing, which has long guaranteed Taiwan as its territory and has been intensifying its military and political pressure on the island.
The ceremony was presided over by President Tsai Ing-wen, who emphasized the significance of this accomplishment in fortifying Taiwan’s military capacities.
She referred to the submarine as “a fruit of our self-reliant defense policy” and highlighted its role in enhancing the navy’s “asymmetric warfare” capabilities. Tsai’s dedication to this project dates back to 2016 when she first initiated the plan shortly after taking office.
The first prototype of the domestically developed submarine, “Narwhal” or “Hai Kun” in Mandarin, is a symbol of Taiwan’s determination to enhance its defense capabilities and reduce reliance on overseas procurement.
This accomplishment addresses a critical leap forward for Taiwan, which has confronted various difficulties in procuring progressed military equipment because of strain from Beijing and global conciliatory limitations.
The journey to develop Taiwan’s first indigenous submarine “Narwhal” has been a difficult one, marked by determination, innovation, and perseverance.
President Tsai’s administration prioritized this project as part of Taiwan’s broader strategy to modernize its armed forces and enhance its ability to defend itself.
The project officially started in 2016, and it immediately turned out to be certain that it wouldn’t be without obstacles. Budget limitations, delays caused by a global chip shortage, and concerns over potential Chinese espionage were just a few of the hurdles that had to be overcome.
The project included a sum of 1,003 Taiwanese faculty, most of whom were dedicated to designing the submarine’s blueprint. Strict security measures were put in place to prevent any leaks of sensitive data.
Naval commander Huang Shu-kuang, an adviser to Taiwan’s National Security Council and a leader of the indigenous submarine project, was given a budget of $1.54 billion (NT$49.36 billion) to build the first ship.
Roughly 60% of the financial plan was spent on getting abroad materials and military equipment, a proportion that is expected to decrease as Taiwan’s domestic submarine shipbuilding industry matures.
The Narwhal submarine, estimating 80 meters long with a displacement weight of around 2,500 to 3,000 tons, is equipped with combat systems and torpedoes sourced from the US defense company Lockheed Martin Corp.
This partnership with international defense experts has been crucial in the development of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine “Narwhal”.
Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program holds huge key significance for the island’s defense. As China’s military activities and provocations in the region have escalated, Taiwan’s need for a robust defense strategy has grown more urgent.
The indigenous submarine armada is viewed as a “strategic deterrent” that can help safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty and maintain access to vital sea routes in the Pacific. One of the key roles of these submarines is to keep China from conducting a naval blockade of Taiwan.
While the Taiwan strait might be excessively shallow for submarines to work in, they can be deployed strategically in areas such as the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines, and the waters between Taiwan and Japan’s westernmost islands.
These areas are critical chokepoints where Taiwan’s submarine “Narwhal” can really counter Chinese naval forces attempting to encircle the island.
Furthermore, submarines are known for their capacity to operate stealthily and launch surprise attacks, making them a potent asset in asymmetric warfare.
Their presence can disturb enemy formations and pose a significant challenge to surface ships, including aircraft carriers.
Taiwan reached out to several countries to obtain export permits for the submarine project. Senior military leaders in the US Pacific Fleet, Japan, South Korea, and India were among those approached for support.
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