The year is 2002. I’m on a quick trip through Taiwan en route to Singapore to investigate Singapore’s responses to 9/11-style Islamist terror. The Straits of Malacca are an international choke point. Osama bin Laden loves icon targets with economic pop and Singapore is a world trade center.
Back in Taiwan: I’ve met a stringer for a defense news service. Our Taipei host takes us to a naval base where we board a decrepit World War II U.S. Guppy-class submarine Taiwan’s navy uses as a training ship.
The sub, once you’re inside, is a spit-shined museum. In a compartment with a desk, we meet a Taiwanese senior naval officer. He’s a captain, a submarine force captain. He asks me about my visit to Taiwan. I tell him I’ve seen impressive bunkers, including an air base in eastern Taiwan cut into a mountain and F-16s in a cave beside the highway-runway. Very Switzerland, I said. Told him about a drive I made in the Alps circa 1982.
Now the Asia defense reporter abruptly asks the captain about Taiwanese manufactured subs. The captain demurs. “Hidden Dragon,” the reporter says. The captain smiles, shrugs an excellent shrug.
“I’m asking about an indigenous Taiwan submarine,” the reporter replies, evenly, no drama.
The captain smiles.
As we left the navy base, walking to the reporter’s car, he handed me a black and white photo. From a trade show. The thing’s manufactured in Taiwan. Allegedly a key piece of a modern diesel electric sub. “I’m sure they’re doing it,” he said, meaning pursuing Hidden Dragon, the indigenous sub.
He asked me what I thought. I said, “It appears Taiwan wants options.”
I said what I said. But if I’d really been prescient, I’d have said Taiwan needs a reliable weapons supplier not subject to pressure from Beijing. Given the problem of defending against a mainland Chinese attack across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan really needs modern submarines to disrupt and defeat it.
Beijing’s communist imperialist government is hellbent on taking Taiwan as it reconstructs an empire—a Chinese empire built on the dictatorship’s desires, not on history, not on law, and definitely not on the desires of human beings living in the lands they wish to conquer and exploit.
Which leads us to this week in 2023. Japan’s Nikkei news service reported: “Taiwan’s long secretive plans to make its own submarines will be revealed in October” when a domestically made diesel sub appears in the port of Kaohsiung. It’ll be the first of eight.
Nikkei says the sub is a deterrent against mainland aggression.
Bottom line: Hidden Dragon wasn’t propaganda. Homemade is like a backyard garden: a very reliable supplier not subject to the whims of strangers.
Apparently, the sub lacks air independent propulsion (AIP), so it isn’t a super diesel sub. AIP subs lurk for days without surfacing. Yet Hidden Dragon isn’t cheap—almost $1.6 billion.
Apparently, Taipei unveiled the sub program in 2016, despite the photo I saw. Whatever. The sub is now a physical asset, not promises. As a weapon, fact: It can help stop an invasion.
The day before Nikkei’s report, mainland China swarmed Taiwan with 103 aircraft and at least nine warships. Communist China wants Taiwan to believe defense is hopeless.
Deployed Taiwanese subs, sea mines, soldiers in bunkers, allies ready to fight (Vietnam?), and U.S. strategic bombers seeding sea mines. Add long-range U.S. missile strikes. A wise Beijing should think twice before losing. I’d love to add U.S. and allied hard-hitting light sea forces but that option is—as yet—not in the inventory because U.S. admirals and the U.S. Congress are stuck on big target big ships.
If Taiwan becomes a concrete porcupine—with trained soldiers, modern weapons, and reinforced bunkers supported by air and sea assets delivering sea mines and missile strikes—Beijing will never take the island.