The United States supplies advanced systems to Taiwan's new submarine.

The US Navy represents the pinnacle of underwater technology. With notable exceptions, it is not exported. Now Taiwan, which has unveiled its first locally designed submarine, relies on some key elements of American technology.

Taiwan held the launching ceremony of its first indigenous submarine, Hai Kun, in the port city of Kaohsiung on September 28, 2023.

Analysis of the images confirms that the submarine is based on those of the Hai Lung class already in service. Overall, the Hai Lung are well-balanced ships that provide a solid starting point for Taiwan to develop its own submarines.

The Hai Kun class is essentially a reverse-engineered Hai Lung (Zwaardvis) with some visible differences. However, the submarine has been updated with the addition of modern systems supplied by the United States.

Dutch design line updated.

Taiwan received two Hai Lungs from the Netherlands in the 1980s. Their design is based on the Dutch Zwaardvis class, which in turn is derived from the US Navy’s Barbel class. So, in terms of design, the new boat descends directly from the American and Dutch lineage.

Despite this, the media has widely speculated that the submarines are based in some way on Japanese models. While it is true that Japanese engineers lent their help, the influence on the design is exaggerated. Coincidentally, modern Japanese submarines are also descended from the Barbel lineage, so they have some similar design options.

Even today, the basic pattern of the Zwaardvis remains valid. They are seagoing designs suitable for relatively long patrols. They can be characterized by having a relatively large weapons load, ample crew accommodation and space for three diesel generators. This last feature allows you to recharge the batteries quickly.

Although the basis of the Hai Kun class is Dutch, the design, construction and equipment are local projects. Inside there are many new systems that replace the technology of the 1980s of the Hai Kun.

The United States supplies advanced systems to Taiwan's new submarine.

US supplies key systems to Taiwan.

Externally, the Hai Kun class can be differentiated from previous Hai Lungs by the change to X-shaped rudders. It also has a more modern mixed sail built around a modern mast system.

The masts are supplied by L3 Harris and are expected to include electro-optical “periscopes.” These masts, similar to those of the US Navy’s Virginia class, have several advantages. They do not penetrate the hull, so they are safer for the boat if it accidentally hits a ship. This occurs frequently enough to be a real concern with traditional, hull-penetrating periscopes. When they hit something, they can bend and cause leaks at the point of contact with the hull. The new system is completely outside the helmet, so this will not happen.

Another advantage is that they are modular, which means that the masts can be easily changed. And thanks to modern optics, the periscope doesn’t have to be up as long, so it’s less likely to be detected.

Heavy weaponry

The submarine will be armed with heavy MK-48 Mod6 advanced technology (AT) torpedoes supplied by the United States. Eighteen were approved for sale to Taiwan in 2020. These weapons, although not the latest model, are completely modern. Its transport will provide both anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities.

The torpedoes are expected to be complemented by the submarine-launched version of the US Navy’s famous Harpoon anti-ship missile. The UGM-84 Sub-Harpoon is already in service in Taiwan aboard the Hai Lunch class.

The weapons are integrated into a combat management system supplied by Lockheed Martin. This system receives target data from the submarine’s main sensor, a Raytheon-supplied sonar array. It has a bow antenna under the torpedo tubes and large flank antennas on both sides.

Taiwan will be proud to have designed and built its first submarine. Naturally, many key systems have to be imported into a company of this type. And the United States provides the most outstanding elements that promise to make it a powerful combat machine.

HI Sutton