Taiwan has begun building its first new submarines in a generation. And when the boats enter service starting around 2025, they could help to tilt the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait—toward Taipei.
On Nov. 24, dignitaries gathered at shipbuilder CSBC’s new submarine factory in Kaohsiung to mark the start of production. “Proud to launch our #MadeInTaiwan submarine program,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted.
Taipei aims to acquire as many as eight boats. They will replace two Zwaardvis-class boats that Taiwan acquired from the Netherlands in 1987 and 1988 and two U.S.-made Tench- and Balao-class boats that Taipei bought in 1973.
The latter two boats date from the mid-1940s. They are the oldest submarines in the world.
As long ago as the late 1980s, Taipei began exploring the possibility of a follow-on submarine acquisition. But China leaned on the world’s sub-builders, threatening sanctions against any country that sold Taiwan new boats.
Finally, in 2015, Taipei lost patience. China was a decade into a major naval buildup and the Taiwanese navy’s existing submarines weren’t getting any less ancient. Taipei began cutting deals with American and Japanese suppliers for the major technologies CSBC would need to equip the new boats.