November 1, 2003
Taiwans desire to update its submarine fleet keeps running aground. Taipei has for several years been involved in what the US Navy unofficially calls a Thrashex. Taipei has recently been reported, upon advice from the US, to be looking to buy slightly used subs from European countries since having new one built keeps running up against problems. The US has been out of the diesel-electric sub building business for 40 years, and European producers cringe before the image of an angry Peoples Republic of China coming after them.
Word coming from Taiwan now indicates that, to make matters even more difficult, the projected costs announced by the navy are much higher than anticipated and may exceed the military's total budget for new weapons systems. "We do not know what type of submarine the US will offer us. We have to admit that the process is not progressing smoothly," said a Taiwan Navy official.
Initial estimates by the navy indicate that it would need at least $ 11.8 billion to buy eight conventional submarines from the US, a figure much higher than that previously reported. The costs are said to increase to $ 14.7 billion if the submarines the US offers of a more advanced type, although all subs being considered are roughly equivalent. The $11.8 billion estimate is for submarines displacing under 2,000 tons, such as the German U-212/214-class, while the $14.7 billion estimate is applicable to a submarine of around 3,000 ton displacement, such as the Australian Collins-class SSK. The navy could also accept smaller submarines with tonnages between 1,500 and 2,000. The navy reportedly would not consider buying smaller submarines, which it regards as toys.
The US was set to send a delegation to Taiwan by the end of the year to report on what type of submarine it could procure for Taipei. Despite being unclear on the type of submarine the US will select for Taiwan, the first of the eight non-nuclear powered submarines will not be delivered before 2013, leaving Taiwan with two 1980s Zwaardvis-class Dutch submarines and two ancient ex-US Guppy-II subs from the 1950s.
This latest estimate leaves Taiwan short of money since the current estimated special budget for new weapons systems over the next 10 years is $ 15.3 billion. -- K.B. Sherman