The U.S. decision to help Taiwan buy eight diesel submarines will be a boon to the island's navy, enabling it to break any naval blockade imposed by its communist rival China. The submarines will also be a big deterrent to a Chinese attack, and perhaps more importantly, analysts say, they will give Taiwan's navy an offensive capability.
"I think the decision to sell us eight submarines is a very exciting development," said military affairs academic and commentator Holmes Liao. U.S. President George W. Bush put off a possible sale of the Aegis naval air defense system to Taiwan on Monday, but offered Taiwan four Kidd-class destroyers, a dozen P-3 "Orion" submarine hunter aircraft and eight diesel submarines built in Europe.
"Having eight subs in the Taiwan Strait will be a big deterrent if the People's Liberation Army ever decides to cross the Taiwan Strait," Liao said.
"With submarines, we could impose a naval blockade, blocking Hong Kong or Shanghai. We can't send our fighters or frigates to do that. Submarines can be offensive weapons," he said.
Taiwan Defence Ministry spokesman Huang Suey-sheng said: "We must obtain modern weapons for the sake of security in the Taiwan Strait and peace in the Asia-Pacific."
He would not comment on the reported sale.
Tyson Fu, director of Centre for Strategic & International Studies at the National Defence University, said the arms sale decision would help maintain a delicate balance of military power in the Taiwan Strait.
"We need to have superiority in terms of quality to make up for our disadvantage in terms of quantity. This is how we can maintain a certain kind of balance," Fu told Reuters.
Taiwan, armed with U.S. and French fighter jets and frigates, is unlikely to be a pushover in any conventional conflict with China, analysts say.
But a naval blockade and the growing number of missiles deployed in Chinese provinces facing Taiwan are the greatest threats to the island.
Taiwan has two Dutch-made Zwaardvis class submarines in active service. Two U.S.-built Guppy-class submarines are World War Two leftovers which were used only for training.
Tsai Ming-yen, an associate research fellow of strategic and international studies at the Taiwan Research Institute, said: "Compared to the large number of submarines Communist China
has, Taiwan's anti-submarine capabilities are rather weak."
China has Russian KILO-class and Chinese-made Sung-class submarines.
"The P-3s (submarine hunter aircraft) and the submarines are just what we need," Tsai said.
The four-engine, turboprop anti-submarine aircraft have been used by the U.S. navy for decades and are much better than the obsolete S-2Ts Taiwan currently
has, Liao said.
The P-3s can fly over large areas of ocean for hours searching for submarines and are equipped with anti-submarine torpedoes and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
It was unclear how the United States would
provide diesel submarines, which it does not build. Experts have said the submarines would likely be Dutch-designed and German-built boats equipped with U.S. technology, supplied under a deal brokered by the United States. - (Reuters)