Talking Taiwan Security at the Hudson Institute

by Craig Hooper on June 30, 2017

The indefatigable Seth Cropsey over at Hudson Institute for American Seapower had me stop by to chat about Taiwan security issues. Despite the heat, it was a good time. Here’s the talk:

My fellow panelists and I earned Hudson a little bit of coverage from Seapower Magazine. My takeaway quote there was this:

Craig Hooper, senior analyst at Gryphon Scientific, said while he doesn’t believe the threat China presents to Taiwan is “insurmountable,” it remains one of Taiwan’s biggest concerns.

“In the maritime domain, the People’s Liberation Army Navy [PLAN] threat to Taiwan is very real,” Hooper said. “But with a disciplined strategy-minded application of even modest resources, the PLAN threat to Taiwan is manageable. Submarines and other undersea vehicles may be a viable part of a comprehensive solution.”

Outside of my usual “don’t freak out about China, but manage it” message, I hit a few other points. The first was to encourage Taiwan to consider just how the emergence of precious capital ships (and the capital ship defense mission) might change the nature of the Chinese surface Navy. The other point was to encourage Taiwan to mull the impending requirement that China–in any Taiwan contingency in the not-so-distant future–deploy a lot of stuff forward to deter an array of compensatory strikes at an increasingly vulnerable array of isolated Chinese interests/facilities.

These are interesting strategic questions that, frankly, just haven’t gotten sufficient analysis.

The Way Forward For Taiwan’s Subs:

Regarding Taiwan’s subs, I encouraged the country to consider indigenous solutions–though I agree with my other panelists–rehabbing their two existing Dutch-built Zwaardvis Class subs first makes sense. And then, if the Netherlands is willing to transfer their two retied Zwaardvis subs from storage in Malaysia (if they still even exist!), Taiwan would be on the road to reconstituting a viable “higher-end” submarine capability.

That scenario….could happen (though I can’t see a not-fully mothballed sub surviving for years inoperative in the Malaysian heat, but, well, a panelist insisted they’re still viable). And given that Mainland China seems to be tolerating the fact that a Dutch firm (CSBC) is currently refurbishing Taiwan’s existing submarines, maybe a transfer of the two subs from Malaysia (again, if they still exist!) could happen without sparking too much of a diplomatic temper tantrum. To me, a path towards a fleet of four old-but-still-pretty-capable subs seems to be the most viable and timely route for Taiwan to take.

But, outside of the Dutch submarines, my sense is that Taiwan should get about the business of building some simple subs of their own (if North Korea can do it, so can Taiwan!), and set to work immediately on raising the costs China must pay to threaten the Taiwanese coast and their harbor approaches.

Waiting for the United States to offer much of anything (and to get it all approved, funded, designed, built and transferred) would take decades–and, frankly, given the high risk any advanced tech transferred to Taiwan will leak to Mainland China, Taiwan can’t expect anything fancy from the U.S. (or anybody else) anyway.

I also encouraged the Taiwanese to focus their efforts on anti-surface warfare–on sinking ships.

In any Taiwan scenario, the undersea environment will be extraordinarily confusing, with boats from many nations operating in the area. Let maritime patrol aircraft attack known hostile undersea targets, and leave the subs to focus on either threatening major surface assets, or locating, identifying and killing surface targets under challenging electromagnetic conditions. Given the lack of a viable indigenous submarine-focused industrial base in Taiwan, the effort needed to develop integrated anti-submarine capabilities would be a waste of resources right now. Subs sink ships, and as I have said before, simple “flip phone” subs are sufficient even in today’s fancy, do-anything “Iphone sub” world.

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