Last month, Taiwan approved a service extension for its two Dragon-class submarines. The sub upgrades will allow the craft, launched in the late 1980s, to operate for at least another 15 years. Additionally, the government plans to build eight new attack subs.
But Taiwan also needs to keep its submarine fleet armed. After stalling for many years, the United States has finally agreed to approve the sale of MK-48 heavyweight torpedoes to the island nation.
The news comes from an unnamed official within Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, speaking to Defense News. Neither country has officially confirmed the agreement, and it remains unknown how many torpedoes will be purchased.
The projectile is developed by US-based defense firm Raytheon, which describes the MK-48 as being "effective" against "all targets, in both littoral and deep-water environment."
"The torpedo is capable of autonomous operations or control via wire link," according to the company’s website.
"Software-based guidance and control enables autonomous operation, 'fire and forget' tactics, simultaneous multiple target engagement and close-in attack. MK-48 quieting technology…significantly reduces self-noise to enable covert deployment and minimize detection."
The deal comes amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea, where Beijing has constructed a series of artificial islands. The United States has accused China of attempting to establish an air defense zone, while Beijing maintains it has every right to build within its own territory and that the islands will be used primarily for civilian purposes.
In response, the Pentagon has conducted a number of provocative patrols through the contested areas, and encouraged Pacific allies to play a more active role in preventing China’s growing influence in the region.
With a growing submarine fleet, Taiwan could no doubt play a role in those patrols.
A highly-contested region through which roughly $5 trillion in international trade passes annually, most of the South China Sea is claimed by China, though there are overlapping claims by Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
The United States has no territorial claims in the region.