Heck yes! If the rumors are true, the yet-to-be-announced Taiwan deal puts the U.S. back in the conventional sub business. I’ve seen this coming for awhile. Back in July 2008, I wrote that Fincantieri’spurchase of the Manitowoc Shipyard looked, ultimately, like a move to support the U.S. promise of subs for Taiwan. In August 2008 I followed up with some additional signals and indications, and now, it looks like my guess might be right.
At any rate, as details of the U.S.-Taiwan arms deal leaks out, the chances the Manitowoc shipyard–a legacy building site for U.S. subs–will return to the sub businesses look like they’ve gotten a substantive boost.
Appreciate the nuance, here. The best reporting to date is coming from Reuters, and they’ve offered an interesting tidbit on the Taiwan arms sale–the aid package may likely include design work for advanced subs and not the subs themselves–yet:
“The design work, estimated at $360 million, would require a U.S. company to show it had the ability to build them or had found a foreign partner that would do so, said Ed Ross, director of operations at the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency from 1994 to 2007. The cost of building eight diesel-electric submarines had been estimated at $10.2 billion and would take 10 to 15 years, he added in a telephone interview.”
So what, exactly, are some implications of granting Taiwan permission to pursue sub “design” work?
- It won’t totally infuriate the Chinese or Taiwan. (It’ll just make ‘em angry.)
- It will give the U.S. an opportunity to fund design of non-nuke subs without totally infuriating nuke-loving U.S. Submariners. (It’ll just make ‘em angry.)
- It may give the Navy a means to somewhat painlessly cancel the Manitowoc-built LCS-1 platform, throwing sub design work and potential contract work to a spurned Manitowoc yard might find some Congressional friends. (It’ll just make the locals angry–for awhile.)
- Though I’m looking to see the big boys (Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics) get bought off by an acceleration of the SSBN(X), any contest for non-nuclear subs may give established U.S. sub fabricators a means to weather the slow-down of the Virginia Class buy (It’ll just…well, they’re angry already, anyway.)
Keep in mind, the submarine deal is something Taiwan has long wanted, long asked for, and that the Bush Administration kinda heedlessly granted three months into his first term (and subsequently didn’t proceed upon).
So now, nine years later, Obama is trying to put this “un-backed” obligation to rest–as best he can–in a way that might benefit the U.S. a tad. At any rate, this bit of defense politics seems to be one of those interesting deals that includes everyone–and yet irks everybody, as well. We’ll see…But this “everybody gets a tiny piece holiday pie” strategy is fascinating to watch.
“The tactical submarine fleet must develop a whole new generation of undersea
weapons and capabilities including smaller multipurpose submarines (both manned and unmanned), vehicles and weapons…”
Feed a Joint Multi-Mission Submarine some steroids (hey, it’s so new it could grow into anything) anytime before it is scheduled to reach initial operational capability in 2016, and you might even end up with a Type 212. It’d make a nice compliment to any Taiwan buy…and, so doing, tie into Robert Work’s wider interest in offering U.S. Navy platforms for export.
If the U.S. dives in, the international submarine market is going to be an incredibly interesting place. But, that said…do we really want to join the rest of the nation in exporting these things? Really? Is that wise? What’s more dangerous? A Chinese carrier-killer ballistic missile, a multi-component, multi-site weapon system held under tight central control, or a lucky sub commander (from one of any number of nations) with an anti-U.S. grudge and an American carrier coming down the maritime choke-point?
Me, I fear the latter.