Northrop Grumman Reportedly Gains in Taiwan Submarine Contest

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2003

Taiwan’s ongoing attempt to upgrade its aging submarine fleet seems to be gaining headway. Taipei wants as many as eight new generation diesel-electric submarines, but deciding upon the model and finding a shipyard to build them have been ongoing problems since the Bush administration gave the project the go-ahead in 2001 over protests from Europe and screeches of outrage from Beijing.

Northrop Grumman has been involved in an ongoing idea-swapping process with the US Navy since last year, according to the Newport News Daily Press, which quotes Northrop spokesman Randy Belote as saying that “things are moving forward." If Northrop wins the contract, the subs are reportedly likely to be built at the Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Division in Pascagoula, MS, rather than Newport News, VA, or Electric Boat in Groton, CT. Northrop submitted design ideas to the US Navy and to Taipei last December. In fact, Northrop may partner with one or more as yet unnamed companies with recent experience in building diesel-electric submarines, although a likely such partner may be Germany, which has a robust export program for its U-212/U-214 class submarines. The US Navy went to a top-secret technology, all nuclear submarine fleet in the 1960s and has no recent experience building diesel-electric subs, nor does it want to share any of its current submarine technology. The Pascagoula shipyard currently builds Burke-class guided missile destroyers and other smaller ships for the US Navy.

Taiwan’s attempt to get modern subs has been greatly hampered by the reluctance of European countries that build such ships to aggravate the Peoples Republic of China. Beijing has nearly 100 submarines, ranging from new Han 404-type attack subs and Xia 406-type ballistic missile submarines to ex-Soviet Union Foxtrot-class relics from the 1950s. The current Taiwanese submarine fleet consists of two Hai Lung-class submarines (ex-Dutch) commissioned in 1987/88 and two US-built Guppy II-class submarines last updated in the 1950s. Current Western designs include the Australian Collins-class design, the Spanish Galerna-class submarine (which is similar to the French Agosta-class submarine), the German Type 212/214 boat, or the Walrus-II class built in part by Northrop and currently used by Holland.

If Bush wins a second term, it becomes increasingly likely that Taipei will get its submarines.

Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH (HDW) of Germany – builder of the U-212/214-class SSKs – may partner with Northrop Grumman to build Taiwan’s new submarine fleet. (pic: HDW)