Until such programs are off the ground, Taiwan must rely on aging matériel.
Its two other submarines were built by the Netherlands in the 1980s. By contrast, China, according to the Pentagon report, has 59 attack submarines, including five that are nuclear-powered.
“Regardless of whether you are talking about the quantity or the quality of our submarines,” the Hai Pao’s captain, Wang Kuo-min, said onboard, “there is a very big gap between us and the Chinese Communist contingent.”
Some experts say that given China’s overwhelming numerical advantage in weaponry, Taiwan should focus less on big platforms like submarines and more on lower-cost weapons like antiaircraft and anti-ship missiles that can blunt China’s superiority.
“Taiwan needs to invest in things that give us new and asymmetric capabilities and can be operational in three to five years,” said Yu Hsiao-pin, who has served on Taiwan’s National Security Council.
In the meantime, China keeps ratcheting up the pressure. Its aircraft routinely probe Taiwan’s airspace, forcing Taiwan’s fighters to respond on at least eight occasions so far this year. In July, China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, traversed the Taiwan Strait in a show of force.
“We cannot allow the situation to become routine,” said Col. Hsieh Chu-yuan, political warfare director of the 455th Tactical Fighter Wing, whose F-16s scramble from the island’s main air force base at Chiayi.
The F-16s, bought from the United States in 1992, now face off against increasingly sophisticated Chinese jets, including, soon, the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter. Taiwan has no choice but to use the weaponry that it has to deter China, said Mr. Feng, the defense minister.
“Taiwan can’t match China jet for jet, boat for boat,” he said, but that hardly leaves it defenseless.
“Any attempts to harm Taiwan’s people or invade its territory,” he said, “will come at a great cost.”
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