Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ain't Gonna Study Submarines No More

Taiwan's options for submarines are dwindling and they need to buy them before their sailors leave the service:

Taiwan is running out of time to find replacements for its aging submarine force. Taiwan currently has four boats. Two are 70 year old American Guppy class subs. These are used only for training, and are increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain. The two Hailung class subs were built in Holland and entered service in 1986. These 2,500 ton boats are armed with twenty torpedoes and Harpoon missiles (launched from the torpedo tubes.) But there's a new problem as well, because of plummeting morale among the 200 sailors who run these boats. Years of delays in obtaining new subs, and dim prospects of ever getting them, discourages qualified young sailors from volunteering for the submarine service, and many old hands are retiring as soon as they are eligible.
Strategypage reports that India might be an option for boats; and that the Russians might bite at the chance for the contract.

The subs, as Strategypage notes, would be useful as a counter-threat to China's sea lines of communication in case China attacks Taiwan.

But there is more than that. I think the biggest advantage of Harpoon-equipped Taiwanese submarines is that they allow us to intervene in case China attacks Taiwan before we openly intervene. That is, if Taiwanese subs are at sea, our subs can launch Harpoons at the Chinese invasion fleet with plausible deniability. We can deny it and Taiwan can claim they launched the missiles.

Since China's anti-access capabilities could delay our surface fleet and air power as we gather sufficient forces to fight within range of Chinese forces, we may need to avoid openly siding with Taiwan but still need to intervene quickly with something to buy time for us to intervene in force.

I think it would make a lot of sense for Russia to sell submarines to Taiwan. India would also find it useful to arm Taiwan and create a distraction for Peking.

Taiwan desperately needs new submarines soon, and two countries with reason to worry about China could provide them. Will they?