Taiwan celebrated a historic moment on Thursday with the unveiling of its inaugural domestically built submarine. The event marked a significant milestone for the island nation as it strives to enhance its military capabilities in response to increasing threats from Beijing.
President Tsai Ing-wen presided over the ceremony at the submarine’s shipyard in Kaohsiung city, officially naming the diesel-electric vessel “Narwhal” in English and “Hai Kun” in Mandarin, which loosely translates to “sea monster.”
Tsai emphasized the importance of the submarine in defending Taiwan, stating, “The submarine is an important realization of our concrete commitment to defending our country. It is also a crucial asset for our naval forces as we develop asymmetric warfare strategies.”
She reflected on the initial skepticism surrounding the indigenous submarine project, noting, “In the past, many people thought building an indigenous submarine would be an impossible task. But we have made it.”
The ceremony held personal significance for President Tsai, who initiated the domestic submarine program shortly after assuming office in 2016.
The Taiwanese military aims to bolster its defense capabilities with these submarines, making it more challenging for China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, to consider any invasion. Notably, the event garnered the attention of international representatives, including Sandra Oudkirk, Washington’s de facto ambassador to Taiwan, as well as diplomats from Japan and South Korea.
However, specific details about the submarine’s size and capabilities remained undisclosed during the ceremony, with security concerns cited as the reason for not allowing close-up photographs.
By 2025, Taiwan plans to have a total of three submarines, in addition to the two Dutch-made submarines commissioned in the 1980s. The long-term goal is to build a fleet of eight indigenous submarines.
Admiral Huang Shu-kuang, an adviser to Taiwan’s National Security Council and a leader of the indigenous submarine project, emphasized the role these submarines would play in deterring a naval blockade by China. While the Taiwan Strait may be too shallow for submarine operations, they can be effectively deployed in the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines, and the waters between Taiwan and Japan’s westernmost islands. These strategic locations limit China’s access to the Pacific Ocean.
Admiral Huang explained that in the event of a military conflict, China’s navy would likely attempt to encircle Taiwan to restrict U.S. intervention. Submarines, operating stealthily underwater, would be better positioned to approach Chinese aircraft carriers and launch attacks. This strategic advantage aligns with Taiwan’s goal of establishing a credible second-strike capability.
Furthermore, the submarines are designed to carry U.S.-made MK-48 torpedoes, enhancing their anti-surface ship capabilities.
Taiwan’s focus on defense self-sufficiency has led to an increase in domestic weapons development, reducing reliance on overseas procurement. While diplomatic efforts to acquire significant military hardware initially faced challenges, recent years have seen the United States approve several substantial military sales to Taiwan.
The successful construction of Taiwan’s first domestically built submarine is expected to alleviate concerns about its military preparedness, especially in the face of increasing pressure from Beijing. China views Taiwan as part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to unify the island with the mainland, a position strongly rejected by Taiwan.
Under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has escalated its military activities around Taiwan, including frequent sorties by fighter jets, bombers, and surveillance aircraft, as well as incursions by Chinese warships into the Taiwan Strait.
The indigenous submarine project in Taiwan began in 2016, overcoming budget constraints, global chip shortages, and espionage concerns. The project involved over 1,000 Taiwanese personnel, primarily focused on designing the submarine blueprint, with strict security measures in place to safeguard sensitive information.
Although about 60% of the project’s budget was allocated to acquiring overseas materials and military equipment, Taiwan aims to reduce this percentage as its domestic submarine shipbuilding industry matures.
The unveiling of the submarine marked a significant step, with sea trials scheduled for the coming month and the vessel expected to enter active service next year.
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