Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Taiwan Doesn't Need the Subs

I have been the leading proponent of Taiwan purchasing the eight diesel submarines offered them by the United States in recent months. No more! MeiZhongTai is officially changing sides in this debate.

Debates on Taiwan's special budget have been going on for months between Michael Turton, Sun Bin, and myself. The most controversial piece of the arms package has proven to be the eight diesel submarines at a cost of 657 million USD each (2.5 times the regular cost of a comparable diesel submarine).

In the past, I reasoned that Taiwan, an island nation, cannot risk ceding the subsurface to a potential invading/blockading force (the PLAN) and thus must be willing to pay any cost to acquire a force that can contest submarine control, even if it would lose in a drawn-out contest. An 8:50 ratio in submarines would force China to fight for dominance, while a 2:50 ratio would amount to surrender (especially considering the identity of Taiwan's two seaworthy submarines at present). Tis better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all, I reasoned.

After considering the arguments of my fellow China/Taiwan bloggers and discussing the matter further with a professor of mine, I have concluded that I was approaching the issue all wrong. The logic that I was missing is embarassingly simple. If China has to battle Taiwan's submarines for control of the subsurface, it won't dispatch its entire submarine force to do so. China would, at most, send two of its attack subs in search of every Taiwanese sub. Were Taiwan to acquire the eight new submarines, that would distract, at most 16 PLAN submarines in a Taiwan Strait conflict. That would leave China 39 attack submarines to sink the ROCN surface fleet or Taiwan's merchant marines, or protect its own invasion force. Additionally, any ROC submarine that successfully carries out an attack on PLAN forces would be immediately sunk by PLAN submarines, destroyers, or sub-hunting aircraft.

In such a scenario, the cost-benefit analysis becomes a simple one of comparing the cost of an ROC submarine to the cost that China would incur for adding two additional attack submarines to its fleet. Obviously, China's growing defense budget can more easily foot the bill for two domestically produced subs than can Taiwan's shrinking defense spending afford to buy subs at such an inflated price.

Thank you to Sun Bin, Michael Turton, and those with whom I discussed this issue in person for showing me the light. This is exactly why I blog... to force me to defend my assertions and reevaluate them in the face of additional (and possibly conflicting) information.