Charting Taiwan’s Defense Horizon: Unveiling the Hai Kun (SS-711) Submarine – A Testament to Domestic Innovation and Strategic Autonomy

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The unveiling of Taiwan’s first domestically made submarine, the Hai Kun (SS-711), marks a significant milestone in the island’s defense capabilities and strategic autonomy. Launched on 28 September 2023 in Kaohsiung, the Hai Kun is a testament to Taiwan’s ambitions to revitalize its aging submarine fleet with a focus on domestic production and technological innovation.

The Hai Kun, christened after a mythological fish known for its vast size, signals a new era for the Republic of China Navy (ROCN), introducing advanced features and design philosophies inspired by international submarine technology, yet distinctly tailored for Taiwan’s defense needs. The submarine is part of Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) program, which aims to build a fleet of eight submarines to enhance its underwater warfare capabilities. The program has seen Taiwan recruit international expertise and secure significant foreign investments in submarine technology, notably from the UK, which has provided licenses for the export of over £167 million worth of technology and parts since 2017​​.

Construction of the Hai Kun commenced on 24 November 2020 at the CSBC Corporation’s shipyard in Kaohsiung. It embodies the “Domestic Ship, Domestically Built” policy, underlining Taiwan’s push towards self-reliance in defense manufacturing. The submarine’s design is reportedly influenced by the Dutch Walrus class, featuring a hybrid single/double hull construction, and is equipped with six torpedo tubes, although the specifics of its armament were not publicly disclosed during the christening ceremony​​.

The Hai Kun incorporates cutting-edge technology from international defense contractors, including a spherical sonar system from RTX and a domestically developed torpedo countermeasure system, inspired by the Turkish ASELSAN’s ZOKA system. This move towards integrating foreign and local technologies underscores Taiwan’s strategic approach to blend international expertise with domestic innovation, ensuring the submarine’s operational effectiveness while fostering local defense technological capabilities​​.

Taiwan’s first indigenous submarine is not just a military asset but a symbol of technological prowess and political determination. The completion of harbor acceptance trials and the planned commencement of sea trials in April signify the rigorous testing and refinement processes the Hai Kun will undergo before its expected service entry. Despite challenges, such as delays attributed to global supply chain issues, the ROCN anticipates the submarine’s delivery before 2026, marking a significant step towards bolstering Taiwan’s defensive and deterrent capabilities in the face of evolving regional security dynamics​​.

The Hai Kun’s launch, therefore, represents not only a milestone in Taiwan’s naval modernization efforts but also a strategic pivot towards greater self-reliance in defense technology and manufacturing, positioning the island to better navigate the complexities of regional maritime security.

AttributeDetails
NameHai Kun
BuildersCSBC Corporation, Taiwan
OperatorsRepublic of China Navy
Preceded byHai Lung class
Built2020–onward
In commissionFrom 2025 (planned)
Planned8
Building1
TypeDiesel-electric attack submarine
DisplacementApproximately 2,500 t (2,500 long tons)
LengthApproximately 70 m (229 ft 8 in)
PropulsionDiesel/electric (lithium-ion battery technology)
Test depth350–420 m (1,150–1,380 ft)
Armament– MK 48 Mod6 AT torpedoes
– UGM-84L Harpoon missiles
Speed– Surface: Approximately 8 knots
– Submerged: Approximately 17 knots
RangeExpected range of up to 11,000 kilometers
ClassApproximately 2,500-ton class
Approximately 70 meters (230 ft) in length

Taiwan’s Indigenous Submarine Program: A Strategic Undertaking Amidst International Collaboration

Taiwan’s maiden voyage into the indigenous submarine development arena, represented by the Hai Kun (SS-711), is a monumental stride in its naval defense strategy. The absence of a confirmed air-independent propulsion (AIP) system in the Hai Kun, as of the latest reports, leaves room for speculation about future enhancements akin to the upgrades seen in Spain’s Isaac Peral class submarines. This potential for future inclusion of AIP technology underscores the strategic depth Taiwan is preparing for, enhancing the submarine’s stealth and operational duration beneath the waves.

Image : Hai Kun (SS-711)

The construction of the Hai Kun, a task undertaken by Taiwan’s China Shipbuilding Corporation (CSBC Corp.), is enveloped in a veil of international collaboration and technological integration, with a reported expenditure of $1.54 billion. This endeavor is not just a testament to Taiwan’s resolve to bolster its maritime defense capabilities but also highlights the complex web of international support and cooperation. Notably, Lockheed Martin, among others, has been mentioned as a provider of critical mission systems, underscoring the extensive foreign involvement in bringing the Hai Kun to fruition. Reports indicate that assistance has spanned across at least six countries, including a notable contribution from the United Kingdom, which has played a pivotal role in providing submarine technology and parts, significantly exceeding investments made in the prior six years combined​​.

Taiwan’s determination to embark on its submarine development program in 2014 was significantly influenced by geopolitical pressures, particularly from Beijing. The People’s Republic of China’s stance has notably restricted Taiwan’s access to foreign-made submarines, prompting a turn towards indigenous development after exploring various international options, including the United States and Italy. This strategic pivot is not merely a response to external pressures but a calculated move to ensure Taiwan’s self-reliance in critical defense capabilities​​.

The context of this development is further underscored by the rapid expansion and modernization of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) by China. With a formidable fleet that includes at least 60 submarines, China continues to advance its underwater warfare capabilities through the deployment of nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines, alongside innovative conventionally powered designs and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). This burgeoning naval prowess presents a stark contrast to Taiwan’s naval capabilities, highlighting the strategic imperatives driving Taiwan’s submarine program. The disparity in numbers and technological edge held by China’s submarine fleet accentuates the challenges faced by Taiwan in ensuring its maritime security and defense posture.

Taiwan’s foray into indigenous submarine development, marked by the launch of the Hai Kun, is a significant milestone in its defense strategy amidst regional tensions. The collaborative effort, marked by international support and technological integration, not only reinforces Taiwan’s defense capabilities but also signifies its strategic positioning in the broader geopolitical landscape. As Taiwan continues to navigate the complexities of regional security dynamics, the development and potential future enhancements of its submarine fleet, such as the inclusion of AIP systems, will be critical in maintaining a credible deterrent and safeguarding its maritime interests against escalating threats.

Taiwan’s Submarine Program: A Strategic Deterrent Amidst Rising Tensions

Taiwan’s initiative to bolster its submarine capabilities stands as a pivotal element in its defense strategy, amidst increasing defense expenditure and evolving regional security dynamics. The development and deployment of new submarines by Taiwan are heralded by its officials as a crucial strategic deterrent, envisioned to secure a lifeline to the Pacific, especially in potential scenarios like a naval blockade by China.

The notion of Taiwan enhancing its submarine fleet has been met with skepticism by China, with the state-run Global Times dismissing Taiwan’s submarine aspirations as unrealistic, emphasizing China’s comprehensive anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities that envelop the island. This perspective underscores the strategic chess game unfolding in the Taiwan Strait, where advancements in military capabilities are closely scrutinized and countered.

The strategic utility of modern diesel-electric submarines, particularly in asymmetric warfare contexts, cannot be understated. Such submarines could potentially play a disruptive role against larger naval forces, leveraging their capabilities in shallow waters to ambush vessels or conduct special operations. The geographic intricacies of the first island chain, encompassing critical maritime chokepoints like the Bashi Channel and the Miyako Strait, offer tactical opportunities for these submarines to hinder the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operations.

The emerging Hai Kun class submarines mark a significant upgrade over Taiwan’s aging submarine fleet, which includes the Hai Lung-class boats acquired from the Netherlands in the 1980s and the World War II-era Hai Shih class boats. The latter, due to their antiquity, are presumed to be non-operational for sea voyages​​. The introduction of the Hai Kun class is a testament to Taiwan’s shipbuilding advancements and the broader progress within its military sector, albeit with substantial reliance on international assistance.

Despite the technological leap represented by the Hai Kun class, Taiwan’s submarine fleet faces numerical and, potentially, qualitative challenges when compared to the expanding capabilities of the PLAN. China’s underwater fleet is growing not only in size but also in technological sophistication, encompassing nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines, alongside advanced conventionally powered designs and unmanned vehicles​​.

The commencement of sea trials for the Hai Kun class underscores Taiwan’s resolve to modernize its naval capabilities and enhance its strategic posture in the region. However, the effectiveness of Taiwan’s submarine program in the broader spectrum of its defense strategy and regional security will depend on various factors, including technological advancements, strategic deployment, and the evolving capabilities of potential adversaries.

As Taiwan continues to navigate the complex security environment of the Indo-Pacific, its submarine program stands as a bold statement of its commitment to safeguarding its sovereignty and maritime interests. The future trajectory of this program and its impact on regional security dynamics will be closely watched by friends and foes alike, shaping the strategic calculus in one of the world’s most contested regions.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China Submarine Fleet Overview

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China stands as a formidable force with a diversified submarine fleet, boasting both nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines. While the nuclear-powered submarine capabilities are under development, the diesel-electric fleet remains the cornerstone of China’s submarine forces. The United States government reports indicate a projected growth of the fleet, expected to reach between 65 and 70 submarines by the 2020s, with two submarines currently in the process of having their hulls fitted out.

Total Submarines in Fleet: 56

  • Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs): 6
  • Nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs): 6
  • Diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs): 44
  • Air-independent propulsion (AIP) enabled: 17 out of 44

History

China’s submarine development traces back to the construction of over 80 Romeo (Type 33) attack submarines between 1962 and 1984, supplemented by at least 20 Ming-class (Type 35) submarines, derived from the Soviet Romeo design. The first indigenous SSBN, the Xia-class (Type 092), was commissioned in 1983 but quickly replaced by the more advanced Jin-class (Type 094) submarines due to limitations in speed and noise. The Shang-class submarines (Type 093) bear resemblance to the Russian Victor-III submarine, suggesting technical collaboration with the Russian Rubin Design Bureau. Additionally, the Yuan-class marks China’s pioneering venture into diesel-electric submarines equipped with an indigenous air-independent propulsion system (AIP). The development of nuclear-powered submarines also received domestic attention.

Modernization and Current Capabilities

In December 2012, China and Russia signed a framework agreement for joint construction of four Lada-class (Project 677E) diesel-electric attack submarines, known as Amur-1650 in its export version. The first Amur-1650 submarine reportedly delivered in October 2014, though subsequent updates on the project are scarce.

April 2015 witnessed the commissioning of three upgraded Shang-class (Type 093B) nuclear-powered attack submarines, offering enhancements in speed, noise reduction, and incorporating a new vertical launch system. Equipped with YJ-18 anti-ship ballistic missiles boasting a range of 400 kilometers, these submarines enhance China’s anti-surface warfare capabilities. The U.S. Department of Defense anticipates China’s construction of the Type 093B guided-missile nuclear attack submarine (SSGN) by the mid-2020s, further bolstering anti-surface warfare and land-attack capabilities. Moreover, construction of Type 096 SSBNs armed with the advanced JL-3 SLBM is projected to commence in the early 2020s.

Ship Biographies

  • Jin-Class (Type 094): China currently operates six operational Jin-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) with dimensions of 135 meters in length and 12.5 meters in width, capable of exceeding 20 knots when submerged. Armed with 12 JL-2 SLBMs, these submarines form a crucial component of China’s nuclear deterrent.
  • Shang-Class (Type 093): China’s fleet comprises six Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), measuring 110 meters in length and 11 meters in width. These submarines boast a submerged speed of up to 30 knots and are equipped with torpedoes and cruise missiles.
  • Yuan-Class (Type 039A or Type 041): China’s seventeen Yuan-class diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs) measure 77.6 meters in length and 8.4 meters in width, capable of submerged speeds up to 20 knots. Armed with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, they represent China’s foray into AIP technology.
  • Kilo-Class: China has acquired twelve Russian-origin Kilo-class submarines, comprising two Project 877 vessels, two Project 636 vessels, and eight Project 636M vessels. These submarines vary in dimensions and performance capabilities, contributing to China’s submarine fleet strength.
  • Song-Class (Type 039): China’s fleet encompasses thirteen Song-class diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs), measuring 74.9 meters in length and 8.4 meters in width. Equipped with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, these submarines enhance China’s underwater warfare capabilities.
  • Ming-Class (Type 035): China’s Ming-class diesel-electric attack submarines vary in configurations, with lengths of 76 meters and widths of 7.6 meters. Equipped with 533mm torpedo tubes and capable of firing cruise missiles, these submarines contribute to China’s maritime defense strategy.

The evolution and expansion of China’s submarine fleet underscore its commitment to enhancing naval capabilities and securing its maritime interests. As China continues to modernize its submarine force, global maritime dynamics are poised for significant shifts, prompting strategic recalibrations among regional and international stakeholders.

Import and Export Dynamics in China’s Submarine Industry

Imports

China’s submarine fleet development journey commenced with a significant milestone on June 4, 1953, when the Soviet Union supplied 32 fully operational warships to China, along with the licensing rights to build the Soviet O3-class submarines, designated NATO reporting name: Whiskey. Since the mid-1990s, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has procured 12 Russian-built Kilo-class submarines, with eight of these possessing capabilities to launch Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs). Additionally, there are indications that China has received a Russian Amur-class submarine.

Exports

China’s foray into the submarine export market signifies its growing presence and capabilities in naval technology. The State-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) has been instrumental in facilitating submarine exports, particularly to Thailand and Pakistan.

In June 2015, the Thai government entered into a substantial submarine procurement deal with Beijing, purchasing three export variants of the Yuan-class (Type 039B or Type 041) diesel-electric submarines at $383 million each. This comprehensive trade agreement encompasses the delivery of weapons systems, spare parts, and technology transfers. However, despite expectations for early 2020s delivery, contractual delays have hindered the delivery process, with the first submarine yet to be delivered as of late 2021.

Similarly, Pakistan approved the acquisition of eight submarines equipped with Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems from China in 2016, based on the Yuan-class (Type 039), for a sum exceeding $3 billion. The Chinese Shipbuilding Industry Corporation is slated to construct the first four submarines, while the remaining four will be built in Pakistan at Karachi Shipbuilding and Engineering Works.

In a move showcasing China’s expanding maritime influence, in 2016, Bangladesh received two MING-class submarines from China. Additionally, Bangladesh acquired two Type 053H3 frigates in 2017 and 2018, while Pakistan procured four Type 054A frigates in the same period. Further solidifying its regional ties, China delivered one Ming-class submarine to Myanmar in 2021.

The strategic export of Chinese submarine technology signifies a pivotal shift in global maritime dynamics, with China emerging as a key player in shaping regional naval capabilities and security frameworks. As China continues to expand its footprint in the submarine export market, geopolitical landscapes in maritime domains are poised for significant transformations, underscoring the evolving dynamics of naval power projection and strategic partnerships.

The Strategic Significance of China’s Type 094 Jin Class Ballistic Missile Submarine

China’s Type 094 Jin class ballistic missile submarine represents a significant leap forward in the People’s Republic of China’s naval capabilities and its strategic nuclear deterrence posture. As part of China’s second-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), the Type 094 plays a critical role in ensuring the country’s ability to conduct a second-strike in the event of a nuclear conflict, embodying the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) that underpins nuclear deterrence strategies globally.

The Jin class submarines are equipped with JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), capable of carrying nuclear warheads over considerable distances, thereby providing China with a formidable deterrent that can target potential adversaries far from its shores. The operational deployment of the Type 094 class has significantly enhanced the reach of China’s strategic nuclear forces, marking a pivotal development in its continuous modernization efforts and its pursuit of a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent.

Operational Capabilities and Technological Features

The Type 094 submarines have been designed with stealth in mind, incorporating noise reduction technologies to make detection by enemy ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) forces more challenging. Despite early assessments that questioned the stealth capabilities of the initial boats, subsequent upgrades and refinements are believed to have addressed these concerns, improving their operational effectiveness and survivability in contested waters.

Each Jin class submarine is reported to carry up to 12 JL-2 SLBMs, with a range that allows them to target potential adversaries across different regions from the relative safety of China’s surrounding seas or even while hidden in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. This capability ensures that China’s strategic deterrent remains secure and credible, a cornerstone of its national defense strategy.

Strategic Implications

The deployment of the Type 094 Jin class submarines is a clear indication of China’s intentions to secure its status as a major nuclear power, capable of projecting power far beyond its immediate regional confines. The existence of a viable, undetectable second-strike capability complicates the strategic calculations of potential adversaries, contributing to regional and global security dynamics in profound ways.

Furthermore, the development and operationalization of the Type 094 class have implications for arms control and global efforts towards nuclear non-proliferation. As part of its expanding nuclear triad, China’s advancements in submarine-based nuclear capabilities prompt discussions on strategic stability and the need for new frameworks to address the challenges posed by the proliferation of advanced nuclear delivery systems.

Future Developments

The progression from the Type 094 to the more advanced Type 096 Tang class SSBNs, which are expected to carry the next-generation JL-3 SLBMs, indicates China’s ongoing commitment to enhancing its strategic deterrent capabilities. The evolution of China’s SSBN fleet reflects broader trends in global military technology development, where major powers continuously seek to balance between deterrence and defense, ensuring their national security while navigating the complex landscape of international relations and arms control agreements.

The Type 094 Jin class ballistic missile submarine is thus not just a platform for nuclear weapons delivery but a symbol of China’s strategic ambitions and its place within the global order. As such, it remains a subject of intense interest to defense analysts, policymakers, and scholars interested in understanding the future of international security and strategic stability in the nuclear age.

AttributeDetails
ClassType 094 or Jin-class
TypeNuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN)
GenerationSecond-generation SSBN of the Chinese navy
Strategic PatrolsPoised to begin strategic patrols in the near future, as per the 2015 U.S. ONI report
Missile Tubes12 tubes
Missile TypeJL-2 SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile)
Warhead CapacityEach missile carries between one to three nuclear warheads
Estimated Range7,200 km
Derived fromDF-31 InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)
SLBM SuccessorJL-2 (NATO reporting name CSS-N-14)
SLBM GenerationSecond-generation intercontinental-range SLBM
DeploymentPeople’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) Type 094 submarines
PredecessorJL-1 SLBM (deployed on Type 092 submarine)
Number Built6 Type 094 submarines
Operational Status4 operational, 2 outfitting at Huludao Shipyard
VariantType 094A
Sail ModificationModified and improved sail, incorporating features from a modified Type 093
Launch TubesPotentially increased to 16 tubes (from original 12 tubes)
Visual ChangesMore prominent “hump” in the missile bay aft of the sail, changes in body contours
Sonar SystemRetractable towed array sonar (TAS) mounted on the top of its upper tailfin
Functionality of SonarEnables easier detection of threats and enhances maneuverability to avoid them
Potential Missile UpgradeJulang-2A (JL-2A) with greater range than JL-2
Extended RangeJL-2A could reach virtually the entire United States from Yulin Naval Base in Hainan Island

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