Analysis: Taiwan's Naval Milestone: Launch of 1st Indigenous Hai Kun-class submarine

Taiwan's naval defense industry has consistently prioritized maintaining a credible defense posture, especially given the strategic importance of its maritime domain. The island nation has significantly invested in its naval defense, with a focus on indigenous shipbuilding capabilities. On September 28, 2023, Taiwan officially launched its first Hai Kun class (Indigenous Defense Submarine) diesel-electric submarine Hai Kun.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Artist rendering of the first Taiwanese indigenous submarine Hai Kun. (Picture source: Graphic News)

This emphasis is evident in the development of platforms like the Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) and the Tuo Chiang-class corvettes, both of which are designed and built in Taiwan.

The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) has been instrumental in Taiwan's defense R&D, developing a variety of naval systems, including anti-ship missiles, radars, and electronic warfare systems.

While indigenous development is a priority, Taiwan also collaborates with foreign defense industries for technology transfer and joint ventures, ensuring its naval platforms are equipped with advanced systems.

Modernization is another key aspect of Taiwan's naval defense strategy. This involves not only the construction of new platforms but also the upgrading of existing assets, retrofitting older ships with contemporary weapons systems, sensors, and communication equipment.

However, the industry faces challenges, primarily from political pressures exerted by the People's Republic of China (PRC). These pressures have sometimes made it difficult for Taiwan to procure advanced technologies from other countries, pushing the nation to further invest in its indigenous capabilities.

The recent launch of the Hai Kun-class submarine, Taiwan's first diesel-electric submarine developed under the IDS program, is a testament to these efforts.

The submarine, with a displacement of approximately 2,500 tonnes and a length of around 70 meters, incorporates advanced Lithium Ion battery technology. Its design draws inspiration from various international models, with some similarities to Japan's Sōryū-class submarines and certain features echoing Dutch Zwaardvis and Walrus submarines.

In the broader strategic context, the Hai Kun-class submarine can operate covertly, making it a valuable asset for intelligence gathering and surveillance, especially in the Taiwan Strait.

In potential confrontations, the submarine's discreet operation can serve as a deterrent, complicating adversary risk calculations. The submarine's armaments, including the MK48 Mod6 AT torpedoes and UGM-84L Harpoon missiles, further enhance its operational capabilities.

Looking ahead, Taiwan's naval defense industry is poised for growth, with plans for new submarines, advanced surface combatants, and unmanned maritime systems.