Taiwan’s SS-711 sub takes strategic dive to ‘cut’ China’s claims

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Indeed, there has been a noticeable increase in Taiwan’s weaponry in recent years, to provide a challenge to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army should the need arise. Despite Beijing not recognizing Taipei’s independence and continually claiming sovereignty over the island nation, Taiwan remains steadfast in its stance. 

Photo credit: CSBC

The latest addition to Taiwan’s naval forces is the much-anticipated submarine Hai Kun or SS-711, a homegrown diesel-electric submarine. Currently, SS-711 is undergoing its maiden sea trials—both at the surface and underwater. The main objective of these initial tests is to verify whether the submarine’s technical design aligns with Taiwan’s defense needs, following the specifications detailed in the blueprints. 

The Hai Kun [SS-711] submarine was launched last September in Kaohsiung, a bustling port city in southern Taiwan, marking an important chapter in the country’s defensive strategy.

Taiwan’s submarine fleet

Undoubtedly, the initiation of the SS-711 tests brings a glimmer of hope for the Taiwanese Navy. However, even presuming the tests proceed without a hitch, it’s crucial to remember that it will be a while before this submarine is actively incorporated into the Taiwanese fleet. Plus, its small size introduces potential issues during a potential conflict with China. 

Let’s dig deeper, shall we? Currently, Taiwan has only four fully operational submarines. Two of these are Chien Lung-class submarines, courtesy of Dutch engineering, named ROCS Hai Lung [SS-793] and ROCS Hai Hu [SS-794]. The other two submarines originate from the United States and are of the Tench-class. Named ROCS Hai Shih [SS-791] and ROCS Hai Bao [SS-792], these submarines operate on diesel-electric engines. 

Photo by SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images

A side-by-side comparison of Taiwan and China’s submarine fleets clearly highlights China’s considerable advantage. Consider this: Beijing possesses a conventional ballistic missile launching submarine, six nuclear ballistic missile launching submarines, nine nuclear attack submarines, and 45 conventional attack submarines. Moreover, Beijing keeps an additional 10 conventional attack submarines in reserve, ready for deployment as required.

SS-711 is important to Taiwan

Think about it, defense strategy isn’t just about having a big army. A part of it revolves around a nation’s ability to build and operate its own attack submarines. Why? Submarines have two big advantages – they’re hard to spot and can move around easily. Plus, they pack a powerful punch. 

For example, consider a country that has nuclear weapons. Its submarines can serve as secret mobile launch pads for ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads. So, even if the country’s land-based nuclear resources are taken out in an attack, it can still strike back using these submarines. As a result, other nations may think twice before launching a first strike against it. That’s a key part of a good defense strategy. 

Photo credit: Reddit

Moving on, let’s talk about the economy. Building attack submarines does more than just increase a nation’s military prowess. It also brings jobs – and not just any jobs. These are roles that require high-level skills and advanced manufacturing capabilities. And the effects don’t stop there. When you set up the infrastructure needed to build submarines, industries like steel, electronics, and engineering also get a boost. You can check out the trickle-down effect in this report. 

Last but not least, don’t neglect the potential impact of technology in a country. Building submarines at home means developing advanced tech like nuclear propulsion, sonar systems, and missile tech. And as these advanced techs grow locally, they ‘infect’ other parts of the country’s tech network. This can lead to faster development in other sectors of the economy.

What tests will the SS-711 pass?

Before the SS-711 submarine can start its job, it has to pass a bunch of tough underwater tests. These are crucial to make sure it’s safe and works as it should. A key test checks how well the submarine can handle pressure. The engineers dunk it to its deepest limits, and even beyond, to a point called the ‘crush depth’. If it can handle that, it’s robust and safe for use. 

Another important test checks how well the SS-711 submarine can move. This test includes seeing how well it can dive, surface, and alter its direction. The engineers also examine the ballast tanks that help control buoyancy and the propulsion systems that power the submarine. 

They don’t stop here, though. They also check the submarine’s critical operational systems which are needed for navigation and spotting other ships, these are the sonar systems. Technicians scrutinize the periscope and other lookout systems. Both inside and outside communication systems are also tested to ensure they are reliable and effective. 

Endurance tests are a big part of the testing. These are designed to affirm the SS-711’s ability to operate for long stretches without coming to the surface. Systems tested include air cleaning, efficiency of the nuclear reactor [if it’s a nuclear-powered submarine], and how good its food storage facilities are. 

Lastly, the SS-711 has weapons tests. They test how well it can launch and reload torpedoes and missiles, and ascertain the precision and trustworthiness of its weaponry.

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