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Submarine Plans for the Navy of Taiwan

After a long period of silence media reported another time about plans in Taiwan to equip its Navy with new submarines. According to the reports, these plans range from possible own construction of up to 10 new 2,000 to 3,000 t conventional submarines to procurement of used submarines from other Navies. These reports are to be received with some caution since there is currently no serious state who would be ready to sell submarines to Taiwan, not even granting permission to build submarines under licence, given the known opposition of the powerful and much wanted partner in trade of the Peoples Republic of China. The only exemption might be the USA which, on the other hand, has not built any conventional submarine during the last 50 years.

In the 1990ies also the German defence industry was right in the middle of that discussion when intents became public to deliver submarines to Taiwan, until the Security Council of the German Federal Government eventually rejected any plan to sell arms to Taiwan. A new momentum for deliveries of submarines to Taiwan, however, might have come up due to the financial troubles of some states, resulting in refraining from costly arms procurement projects and actually considering selling parts of their submarine fleet. Above all, Greece is said to be one of those states.

What remains is a probable modernization of the two submarines of the “Dragon” (also: “Hai Lung”) Class currently in service with the Navy of Taiwan.

Officially, the Taiwanese Navy still operates 4 submarines. Those are 2 very old submarines of the US “Guppy II”-Class (Hai Shih/S-791, ex USS Cutlass, built in 1944/45 in the USA, plus Hai Bao/ S-792, ex USS Tusk, built in 1943/46 in the USA), which were given to Taiwan by the USA in 1973, and 2 older submarines of the Dutch “Zwaardvis”-Class. Whereas the operational readiness of the vintage ex US submarines is stated to be “training unit”/ “target demonstration unit” for the ASW training of surface forces, the two submarines built 1983-1987 at Wilton-Feijenoord at Schiedam in the Netherlands for Taiwan and commissioned in 1987/ 88 in Taiwan seem to have some operational readiness. On 28 June 2011 media even reported about a first and successful launch of a “Hsiung Feng II” (= Brave Wind II) Ship-Ship-Missile from one of these submarines. Both submarines of the “Dragon”-Class (Hai Lung/ S-793 = “Sea Dragon” and Hai Hu/ S-794 = “Sea Tiger”) have a length of 66.9 m and a beam of 8.4 m, their displacement is 1,900 t surfaced and 2,645 t submerged. Their speed is stated to be 12 kn at surface and up to 20 kn submerged. The operational diving depth is declared to be up to 300 m. The armament of up to 20 torpedoes taken along can be delivered through 6 bow torpedo tubes 53.3 cm. The submarine is operated by a crew of 67 men.


Fire on board a nuclear submarine of the US Navy

The Miami at Port Everglades, 1993

During the afternoon of the 23 May 2012 at the US Naval Shipyard Portsmouth at Kittery, Main fire broke out in the forward compartment of the US Navy´s SSGN USS Miami (SSN-755), where mainly crew living areas, command and control spaces and the torpedo room are located. It took 10 hours until the early morning of the 24 May 2012 to put out the blaze. To fight the fire a special foam laying vehicle of the Boston-Logan airport fire brigade had to be alerted to make its way to the one hour away Naval Dockyard. Two members of the crew and 5 more fire fighters had to be hospitalized afterwards for treatment of smoke poisoning.

On 15 March 2012 the USS Miami had called at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to start its 20 months scheduled maintenance period, and had been dry docked. As a standard procedure before such maintenance period the nuclear propulsion reactor had been shut down and any weapon were given off board.

On 06 June 2012 the Naval Shipyard Portsmouth published its initial findings of the possible cause of the fire and its consequences. According to that the blaze was caused by a slow fire in the vacuum cleaner used to clean worksites at the end of shifts, which was stored after use in an unoccupied and unmonitored space on board. Meanwhile, the cleaning up and some restoration of habitability had started, above all dewatering the submarine from the extinguishing waters, installing some lighting and general cleaning to allow work again. Repair costs are initially estimated to reach some 440 Mill. USD.

The nuclear propelled USS Miami (SSN-/55) had been keel laid on 24 October 1986 at the General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) submarine shipyard at Groton, Connecticut, USA. The submarine was launched on 12th of November 1988 and commissioned on 30 June 1990. USS Miami belongs to the “Los Angeles” Class Fast Attack Submarines of the US Navy, where some 62 boats have been built between 1972 and 1992, with currently 42 still in active service. The Miami has a length of 110 m and a width of 10 m, its displacement is 6,300 t at surface and 7,100 t submerged. The maximum operational diving depth is stated to be 450 m. Speed is up to 22 kn at surface and around 35 kn under water. The submarine has 4 bow torpedo tubes 53.3 cm and 12 VLS to launch BGM-109 “Tomahawk” cruise missiles, as has been executed in 1998 during the engagement against Iraque and the Kosovo. The complement is stated to be 135 men.

Media have started speculation that the high costs for repairs after the blaze might lead to abandon the scheduled maintenance period of USS Miami and to de-commission the 22-year old submarine prematurely. The SSGN of the “Los Angeles” class will see service until approximately 2025, and they will constitute the backbone of the US Navy´s SSGN fleet since the rate of introduction of new SSGN is rather slow.


Order placed to develop new nuclear reactors for the “Vanguard” SSBN replacements

On 17 June 2012 British media reported about the coming placement of an order by the British MoD to Rolls Royce to develop two new types of nuclear reactors, with one of them intended to function as new main propulsion system for the replacement of the strategic submarines of the “Vanguard”-Class of the Royal Navy. Noteworthy that the order will be placed by the British Secretary of Defence from the Conservative Party, although the coalition partner in government, the Liberals, is strongly opposing the “Vanguard”-replacement program as planned. The Liberals are looking for less costly alternatives and have reached already to postpone the maingate for the decision about the building order for the new SSBNs to 2016, which would be after the next election. Only a few weeks prior, on 22nd of May 2012, an order of some 350 Mill GBP (= 420 Mill. Euros) was placed to start development of the SSBN replacement for the “Vanguard”.

HMS Vanguard
HMS Vanguard

The principle decision the uphold the submarine based nuclear deterrence by a successor type to the “Vanguard”-Class, currently representing Britain´s strategic defence capabilities through carrying the ballistic missile of the type “Trident II (D 5)”, has been taken on 04th of December 2006 by the then Blair Government. This has been confirmed in the Defence White Paper of 2010. According to that, 3 new SSBN are to replace the 4 “Vanguard” SSBN, to join the fleet between 2023 and 2027. The total number of nuclear warheads carried by the “Trident II” missiles on board the British SSBNs was reduced to 160. The total cost for the “Vanguard” replacement program is estimated to be between 15 and 20 Bill. GBP (= 18-24 Bill. Euros).

The first generation of British SSBN was represented by 4 submarines of the “Resolution”-Class, commissioned between 1967 and 1969. Between 1993 and 1999 they were replaced by 4 new SSBN, HMS Vanguard/ S-28 commissioned on 14 August 1993, HMS Victorious/ S-29 on 07 January 1995, HMS Vigilant/ S-30 on 02 November 1996 and HMS Vengeance/ S-31 on 27 November 1999. These SSBN have a length of about 150 m, a beam of 12.8 m, their displacement is at surface 14,891 t and submerged 15,900 t. Their speed is stated to be at surface and submerged some 25 kn. They have 16 launch shafts for the delivery of the ballistic missiles of the “Trident II”-Type, introduced in 1990 (three stages, solid fuel propulsion, up to 12 nuclear warheads, range up to 10,000 km). Britain has decided to restrict the number of warheads to a maximum of 8 per missile, acting thereby in the spirit of the SALT I agreement between the US and Russia. The British Defence White Paper 1998 stated the total number of warheads per SSBN to be 48, and the Defence White Paper 2010 reduced that number to even 40 per SSBN. The number of missiles carried on board has been reduced to 8 per SSBN.

In May 2012 SSBN HMS Vengeance has started its three and a half year “Log Overhaul Period (Refuel)” at the Naval dockyard at Devonport, which sees general maintenance and considerable modernization, including refueling the nuclear reactor, costing a total of 350 Mill. GBP (= 420 Mill. Euros). This nuclear refueling, with the new fuel rods also called “Core H”, is said to make any future refueling superfluous. HMS Vengeance is the last of the four SSBN of this class to undergo mid-life maintenance. A few months before, on 28 March 2012, HMS Vigilant had just completed her 40 months long “Long Overhaul Period (Refuel)” at costs of some 300 Mill. GBP (=360 Mill. Euros), concluding her sea trials and combat training by launching a dummy “Trident” missile this same year.

The quarrel within the British government coalition about the replacement of the nuclear deterrence sheds characteristic light at British arms procurement planning, which for decades is marked by over-ambitious and regularly complete under-budgeted projects, down the line much costlier than planned initially, often years late, in many cases introduced with much lower number of units than scheduled, and in some cases even abandoned in a spectacular manner, although design, construction and even introduction had been rather progressed already. The Royal Navy´s two current huge arms procurement projects of the two big aircraft carriers and their STOL aircraft plus the SSBN replacement alone will put enormous burden to the British defence budget for years to come. The consequences are obvious: the operation and new development of conventional weapon systems of the Royal Navy is facing permanent interferences, causing significant impacts to the operational capabilities of the country´s Naval Forces.