Taiwan unveiled its first domestically developed submarine on Thursday, a major step in a project aimed at strengthening the island's defence and deterrence against the Chinese navy, though it won't enter service for another two years.
Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has made the indigenous submarine program a key part of an ambitious project to modernise its armed forces as Beijing stages almost daily military exercises to assert its sovereignty.
President Tsai Ing-wen, who initiated the plan when she took office in 2016, showed off the first of eight new submarines on Thursday in the southern city of Kaohsiung.
“In the past, a domestically developed submarine was considered an impossible task. But, today, a submarine designed and manufactured by our country's people sits before our eyes,” Tsai said, adding that it would play an important role in strengthening the navy's “asymmetric warfare” capabilities.
“Even if there are risks, and no matter how many challenges there are, Taiwan must take this step and allow the self-reliant national defence policy to grow and flourish on our land,” Tsai said, standing in front of the ship, named the Narwhal. Taiwan's red flag, featuring a white sun against a blue sky, was wrapped around the submarine's bow.
Tsai said the Narwhal will enter service in 2025, joining two existing submarines purchased from the Netherlands in the 1980s.
The indigenous submarine program has drawn on expertise and technology from several countries - a breakthrough for diplomatically isolated Taiwan.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said that faced with an increased threat from China's military “grey zone” pressure tactics close to the island with air and naval activities, Taiwan had to strengthen its defences.
“Having a new submarine is one of those strategies. For anyone who questions Taiwan's submarine strategy, I would be a most forceful advocate for Taiwan to acquire submarines because that's needed to deter war from taking place,” Wu said.
Taiwan hopes to deploy at least two such domestically developed submarines by 2027, and possibly equip later models with missiles, the head of the program said this month.
The first submarine, with a price tag of T$49.36 billion ($1.53 billion), will use a combat system by Lockheed Martin Corp and carry US-made Mark 48 heavyweight torpedoes. It will enter sea trials next month before delivery to the navy by the end of 2024.
Admiral Huang Shu-kuang, Tsai's security adviser leading the program, has described the submarines as a “strategic deterrent” that can also help maintain the island's “lifeline” to the Pacific by keeping ports along Taiwan's eastern coast open.