May 20th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Morrison's budget jive lacks inherent harmony

CANBERRA OBSERVED Does budget do heavy lifting or is it "Labor lite"?

NEW ZEALAND Porn poll shows strong majority supports default opt-out policy to protect kids online

FRANCE Emmanuel Macron: a president without a political base

YOUNG POLITICAL ACTIVIST TRAINING (YPAT) Seven-day intensive course without equal in Australia

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Taiwan to go full steam ahead with submarines

RURAL AFFAIRS Murray Goulburn closures an omen of an industry in crisis

CLIMATE SCIENCE Temperature hasn't risen in 20 years: latest data

QUEENSLAND ENERGY 50 per cent renewables target: Is it credible?

LITERATURE Inexplicable: the ongoing appeal of H.P. Lovecraft

LITERATURE The gentle giant: Samuel Johnson

MUSIC Promissory notes: the public funding siphon

CINEMA Going in Style: Old dogs turned rookie robbers


BOOK REVIEW An abstemious revolutionary

BOOK REVIEW Soviet-era thriller revels in details

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Taiwan to go full steam ahead with submarines

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, May 20, 2017


Necessity is the mother of invention.

Plato, The Republic, Book II

Taiwan will design and build its own submarines and complete the first boats within eight years, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen announced on March 21, 2017, at the Zuoying Naval Base in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. It plans to commission the first boat into service within 10 years.

Taiwan 2027, above
Australia 2027, below

Taiwan has tried for years to buy submarines on the international market, but pressure from Beijing has killed any deals before they got off the drawing board.

Australia, which is building its new class of submarines with French assistance, does not expect to launch its lead boat until the early 2030s – almost 10 years after Taiwan. Australia’s $50 billion contract with the French Government seems to take no account of delays at the state-owned dockyards, or blatant pork barrelling in the construction of the Australian submarines.

President Tsai said that she expects the new indigenous defence initiatives to provide more advanced weaponry for the armed forces while spurring the upgrade of related defence technology. It is reported that the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC) will develop a fleet of eight submarines.

According to Tsai: ”The development of indigenous submarines is the most challenging aspect of achieving self-reliance in national defence … and a crucial step in enhancing the country’s underwater military capabilities as part of the MND’s [Ministry of National Defence] new strategy of resolute defence and multiple deterrence” (Taiwan Today, March 24, 2017).

Taiwan currently has only two serviceable submarines, versions of the Zwaardvis (“Swordfish”) submarines supplied by the Netherlands in the 1980s. The two submarines caused a dramatic rift in relations between the Netherlands and China that took a considerable time to heal. The Dutch declined an order by Taiwan for four more submarines.

Two U.S.-supplied submarines, built during World War II, are now over 70 years old. They are the oldest submarines on duty in any navy in the world. These elderly boats are not suited to active service.

George W. Bush pledged to assist Taiwan to procure more up-to-date craft, but nothing eventuated. Groton, Connecticut, based Electric Boat, a division of giant defence contractor General Dynamics, would and could build conventionally powered submarines, even though it hasn’t done so for half a century. The U.S. Navy opposes the building of conventionally powered submarines. The entire U.S. submarine fleet is now nuclear powered. Conventionally powered submarines are inferior to nuclear-powered boats; they are also a lot cheaper and the Navy fears that legislators would fob them off with conventionally powered boats if they could get away with it.

The United States is required to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself, according to the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), even though the U.S. and the ROC have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1979, when Washington recognised Beijing as the government of all China. China regards Taiwan as its own territory, “temporarily” separated from the mainland.

Building a submarine from scratch is no easy undertaking. The lead research and development body will be the state-sponsored National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology. It will be responsible for the integration of the combat system, in partnership with the formerly state-owned China Ship Building Corporation (CSBC). The CSBC has a good reputation as a shipbuilder. The Ship and Ocean Industries R&D Centre will be mainly responsible for design work.

Taiwan’s President Tsai has foreshadowed a major defence upgrade for the island, based on indigenous technology. The Indigenous Defence Fighter (IDF) has been around since the 1990s. The ROC Air Force also has a fleet of Mirage 2000s, a multirole aircraft supplied by France’s Dassault Aviation, and F-16s. A request by the ROC Air Force to buy 66 F-16C/Ds from the U.S. has hit a snag.

Reaching the conclusion that Taiwan will have to rely on its own efforts to improve its defence capability, President Tsai recently announced that the ROC would invest $A3 billion to produce indigenous jet trainers on the island, designed and built locally. The Minister of National Defence, the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology and the Aerospace Industrial Development Corp will cooperate to design and develop the supersonic jet trainers.

When announcing Australia’s submarine project, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that Australia would have “the technology and the skills and the manufacturing” and that the project would guarantee the “jobs of our children and grandchildren for decades to come” (The Sydney Morning Herald, April 27, 2016).

However, Australia is outsourcing the bulk of the intellectual property, whereas Taiwan will be developing its own. The most sensitive and high-tech element of the Australian submarines will be the U.S.-made combat system, which will be sourced overseas.

The Chinese say that “without the wind, there will be no waves”. Taiwan is developing its own submarine fleet out of necessity. Taiwan is a high-tech island. The technological aspects will be hard to master but there has been discussion there of constructing indigenous submarines for at least 20 years.

When Australia was debating the next generation of submarines to follow the Collins Class, it was said that designing a submarine from scratch was the equivalent of designing a rocket to go to the moon. Taiwan is certainly prepared to have a go. The deficiency in its submarine fleet is one of the greatest weaknesses of its defence structure.

Australia has different requirements to Taiwan, but we have a very long lead time. Perhaps we would have been better off building our own submarines.

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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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