Retired submarine officer’s new book criticizes Taiwan’s indigenous submarine building project

A retired senior officer of Taiwan’s 256th Submarine Squadron has published a new book discussing probable Chinese PLA Navy tactics to blockade Taiwan’s military and commercial ports in wartime, and questioning choices made in Taiwan’s indigenous submarine building program.

Captain Jyh-Perng Wang ( 王志鵬, pinyin: Wang, Zhi-peng), former director of the Taiwan Naval Submarine Team Training Center, and former planning officer in the Strategic Planning Department of the Ministry of Defense, discusses the technology available to the PLA, and the tactics likely to be used to implement a blockade of Taiwan’s major ports in his book New knowledge of basic tactics and technology of submarines.

Wang claims that in recent years, the PLA Navy has developed self-propelled mines that can be launched via submarine torpedo tubes, and that these constitute the biggest threat among an already powerful arsenal of more than 10 kinds of mines available to the Chinese navy for mounting an effective blockade of Taiwan’s naval fleet.

The self-propelled mine can be deployed 22 kilometers away from the target area, Wang writes. Once reaching the target point, the mine sinks to the bottom, and lays as a hidden, non-contact-detonated deep mine.

A PLA Navy submarine spotted near Matsu Islands in June, 2019
A PLA Navy 039 Yuan-class submarine was spotted from the deck of the Taima Star Ferry travelling from Matsu Islands to Taiwan on June 4, 2019. Wang recalls the incident in his new book, noting that this part of the Taiwan Strait was too shallow for the vessel to dive.

Citing Chinese discussions of military tactics for an invasion of Taiwan published as early as 2000, Wang argues that submarines would most likely be used to deploy mines to block Taiwan’s deep water ports at Keelung, Su’ao, Zuoying, and Kaohsiung – all of which operate as naval, as well as commercial ports.

The port blockade would coincide with submarines, surface ships, and bombers laying mines at the north and south ends of the Taiwan Strait.

Wang cites a 2004 US Department of Defense Report to Congress on PRC Military Power, that posits a naval blockade of Taiwan’s ports including use of mines as part of strategy to cripple a response to a Chinese offensive.

While there is nothing much new in these discussions of PLA Navy tactics and strategies for an offensive against Taiwan, and the use of submarine-deployed mines, (see Chinese Mine Warfare: a PLA Navy’s ‘Assassin’s Mace’ Capability), Wang furthers a discussion he began in his previous book regarding Taiwan’s capacity building against such an imminent threat.

In An analysis of challenges within Taiwan’s indigenous submarine building program: From 1960 to 2020, Wang criticized the Ministry of Defense policy of building 1,500 to 2,000 ton submarines.

Wang argues that 500 to 1,000 ton submarines are the best choice for Taiwan.

Wang says that the DPP government, Ministry of Defense, and navy are blinded by traditional military thinking. Taiwan’s submarines are for fighting in the Taiwan strait, not in the deep ocean to the east, he contends.

The 1,500 to 2,000 ton class submarines are not only time consuming and costly to build, but ineffective, Wang argues. The vessels can only be based in the deep water ports of Su,ao and Zuoying, which would be among the first to be blocked or destroyed in the event of an attack by the People’s Republic of China.

Lower cost, smaller submarines of 500 to 1,000 tons, capable of carrying 6 torpedoes would be able to maneuver into any of 9 first-class fishing ports and 14 military and commercial ports around Taiwan.

Wang, who self-identifies as “a fiery-eyed lone wolf” advocates having 30 to 40 of the smaller class submarines operating in the Taiwan Strait, and attacking in groups if necessary.

In discussing the current indigenous shipbuilding program and its costs in his latest book, Wang asks: “Why spend so much money if a large number of combat ships cannot play a role in critical moments of conflict in the Taiwan Strait?”

Wang has long been a critic of the Tsai government’s submarine building program. In 2017, he blasted the program’s development template as being based on the existing “stegosaurus class” technology of the 1980s, and described the program as “a money pit plan.”

“You should not want the 2,000-ton class ocean-going submarine currently planned by Tsai Ing-wen. Instead, you should develop a 500-ton offshore submarine,” Wang said at the time.

It costs 4 times more to build a 1,000-ton class submarine, than a 500-ton class submarine, Wang argued; and 4 times more to build a 1,500-ton class submarine, than a 1,000-ton class submarine.

“It takes NT$700 billion to build eight 2,000-ton submarines, but only around NT$300 billion for 30-40 500-ton submarines,” Wang said.

Jyh-Perng Wang on deck of submarine
Author of two books criticizing aspects of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine building policy, Jyh-Perng Wang.
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