Biden gives Taiwan a boost with submarine technology it can’t build on its own

Taiwan navy submarines
Taiwanese submarines at a navy base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, March 21, 2017.

  • Taiwan’s plans to build its own submarine fleet received a boost after the US approved the sale of the sensitive equipment.
  • The US has been reluctant to sell advanced defense technology to Taipei, but Biden appears to be continuing Trump’s approach.
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Taiwan‘s programme to build its own submarine fleet has received a boost after the US approved the sale of three key pieces of equipment.

Taiwanese Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng confirmed on Tuesday that Washington had approved export permits – including the first arms sales to the island under the Biden administration.

“On the delivery period, we need to follow the procedures in due course and I can’t say when exactly they will arrive. After all, there are operational procedures,” Chiu said ahead of a legislative session, adding that the authorities would ensure the work was completed on schedule.

Chiu did not identify the items to be fitted, but ministry officials had said there were three major types of equipment – digital sonar systems, integrated combat systems and auxiliary equipment system (periscopes) – that the island could not produce and must rely on US technology.

Taiwan navy submarine helicopter Asia
A S-70C helicopter over a SS-793 Hai Lung diesel-electric sub during a drill outside a naval base in Kaohsiung port, southern Taiwan, January 14, 2014.

The indigenous submarine project was initiated by the government in 2016 to bolster the island’s ageing fleet of four submarines with eight new diesel-electric models. The first prototype is budgeted to cost NT$49.4 billion (US$1.7 billion) and scheduled to be launched in July 2024 before entering service the following year.

Work on a prototype vessel started at the CSBC Corporation’s shipyard in Kaohsiung, in November.

The approval came just ahead of a meeting this week by senior officials from Washington and Beijing.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to meet mainland officials including China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi on Thursday during a stop in Alaska, according to the State Department. It will be the first high-level in-person contact between the US and mainland China under the Biden administration.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will join the meeting in Anchorage as will Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The meeting will follow Blinken’s first overseas trip to Japan and South Korea, key US allies.

A military source said the Trump administration had approved export permits for the digital sonar and integrated combat systems in December and January, while the Biden administration approved the export of the periscope system last month.

Chiu declined to comment on whether the exports were a sign of closer relations between the US and Taiwan and whether Joe Biden shared Donald Trump’s commitment to defending the island.

Taiwan’s relations with the US – which switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979 – improved sharply under Trump, who adopted a confrontational policy towards the Chinese mainland.

Washington used to be cautious about supplying sophisticated military technology to Taiwan for fear it would be acquired by Beijing. But before Trump stepped down in January, he approved more than US$18 billion worth of arms sales for Taiwan, including some sophisticated items.

Taiwan navy's SS-793 Hai Lung diesel-electric submarine emerges from underwater during a naval demonstration near a military navy base in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, in this January 22, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang
A Taiwanese navy SS-793 Hai Lung diesel-electric sub surfaces during a demonstration near a navy base in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, January 22, 2013.

Chieh Chung, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said the submarine project had the support of the US.

“The Trump [administration] had already approved the export permits for two types of key equipment before he stepped down and as the two sides have a consensus on the sub construction it is left to the Biden [administration] to complete the remaining procedure to give the green light for the last item,” Chieh said.

He said that regardless of whether Trump or Biden was in charge, the US saw the mainland as a key competitor and had asked its allies, especially those near China, to strengthen their defensive capabilities to reduce the burden on the US in the Asia-Pacific region.

“This is why the US is willing to supply those key technologies to support Taiwan’s sub project,” Chieh said, adding Washington also stood to profit from arms sales to the island.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be returned to its control – by force – if necessary, has repeatedly warned the US not to cross the red line on Taiwan, including supplying weapons and having official contacts.

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US Navy sailors have been battling a bed bug infestation aboard an attack submarine

The Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut
The Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut has been battling bed bugs.

  • One of the Navy’s most powerful attack submarines has been battling a bed bug infestation.
  • USS Connecticut sailors have been dealing with this since at least December, possibly longer.
  • The Navy says it responded quickly and effectively, but some sailors have said help came too late.
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Sailors aboard Seawolf-class submarine USS Connecticut, one of the US Navy’s most capable attack submarines, have been battling an bed bug infestation.

Naval Submarine Force Pacific told Insider that the Navy launched efforts to find and eliminate the difficult-to-kill bed bugs after the problem was first reported last December, explaining that the “physical presence of bed bugs” was found in February.

Sailors told Navy Times, which first reported the infestation, that the problem actually started last March while the submarine was participating in an Arctic training event. Family members of Connecticut sailors told the Kitsap Sun that the infestation has been an issue for about a year.

“People were getting eaten alive in their racks,” a petty officer assigned to the submarine told Navy Times. The sailor added that the situation got so bad sailors were sleeping in chairs or on the floor in the mess.

A sailor told Navy Times the outbreak negatively affected people’s sleep, a problem for sailors with a stressful job. “If someone’s sleep deprived because they’re in the rack getting eaten alive by bed bugs, he could fall asleep at (the controls) and run us into an underwater mountain,” the sailor said.

When the submarine returned to port, some sailors took to sleeping in cars to avoid their racks, the Kitsap Sun reported.

Bed bug feeding on human skin
Bed bug feeding on human skin

Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown, blood-sucking insects that burrow into beds and other furniture, and they are exceptionally resilient. The bugs feed at night, often biting any exposed skin while people asleep. They do not fly but instead crawl quickly across floors, ceilings, and walls.

The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center says that “immediate action should be taken if an infestation is discovered.”

Sailors told Navy Times that when they first raised concerns about bed bugs aboard the Connecticut, the command dismissed them because they “didn’t have proof.”

“Navy criteria for treating submarines or ships requires physical presence of bed bugs to establish existence,” Navy Submarine Force Pacific spokeswoman Cmdr. Cynthia Fields told Insider.

She said that multiple inspections of the submarine after reports of possible bed bugs came in last December produce “no evidence of bed bugs.” Even then, “the command continued to pursue resolution,” Fields said, adding that “the Navy takes the safety and health of Sailors very seriously.”

The spokeswoman told Insider that “daily inspections have occurred since the initial discovery of the insects” last month. “All berthing on board was searched, to include removing all bedding and thoroughly inspecting all mattress seams and folds.”

“All linens and privacy curtains were laundered or replaced to destroy the insects,” Fields said, explaining that bed bugs cannot survive the high temperatures of standard clothes dryers.

Mattresses in the affected areas were replaced, all clothes were laundered, and affected areas were thoroughly cleaned.

She said that the response to the infestation was overseen by Navy Preventative Medicine technicians and Navy entomologists, who directed the application of “deadly countermeasures.”

Fields said that pesticide was applied twice after an initial application of diatomaceous dust. The entomologists then took steps to seal off areas where the bugs might escape the pesticide before putting down more diatomaceous dust to draw out any remaining bed bugs.

The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut leaving port
The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut leaving port

During the extensive treatment process, living areas were set up pierside at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton for Connecticut sailors. Navy entomologists have since recommended that sailors return to their racks.

“All appropriate countermeasures have been taken with plans firmly in place to address further breakouts underway if they occur,” Fields said.

The Kitsap Sun, however, reported that the bed bugs have not yet been completely eradicated. Connecticut sailors told the Navy Times that they were being forced back into their racks, claiming that the command is “using us as live bait…to see if (the bed bugs) are still there.”

At least one sailor characterized the command response to the infestation as “employee abuse.”

The Navy did not answer Insider’s question of whether or not it will investigate allegations that the command reacted improperly to sailor concerns about an infestation aboard the Connecticut.

The service did say, though, that Navy Environmental and Preventative Medicine Unit personnel, Preventative Medicine Technicians, and the ship’s corpsman “addressed crew concerns” and repeated that “the Navy takes the safety and health of Sailors very seriously.”

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Chinese sailors are suffering from serious psychological disorders aboard South China Sea submarines, a recent study found

The Jin-B Project 094B ballistic missile submarine takes part in a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of China's Navy, in the Yellow Sea
The Jin-B Project 094B ballistic missile submarine takes part in a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of China’s Navy, in the Yellow Sea

  • A recent study by Chinese researchers found that Chinese submariners in the South China Sea are suffering from “serious” psychological disorders.
  • A little over one-fifth of surveyed sailors showed signs of mental health issues.
  • The operating environment, as well as the challenges of life aboard a submarine, put submariners at a higher risk for psychological issues.
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Chinese submariners patrolling the contested South China Sea are suffering from “serious” psychological disorders, according to a recently published study first reported by Stars and Stripes.

“One group of military personnel at high risk of mental health problems is the submarine force, especially in the South China Sea,” five Chinese researchers affiliated with the Institute of Military Health Management at Naval Medical University in Shanghai wrote in an article published earlier this month in Military Medicine.

108 out of 511 surveys of Chinese submariners in the South China Sea showed signs of psychological disorders ranging from depression and anxiety to hostility, the study found.

The results were compared to mental health norms among male service members across the Chinese armed forces and were found to be “significantly higher.”

“This study demonstrates for the first time that soldiers and officers in the submarine force in the South China Sea are facing mental health risks and suffering from serious psychological problems,” the researchers concluded.

China claims the vast majority of the disputed South China Sea, and it has increased its naval patrols of the waterway over the years to reinforce its sovereignty claims.

“Studies have demonstrated that military maneuvers can produce psychological and physiological stress,” the Chinese researchers explained, adding that life aboard a submarine can also lead to mental health issues.

They wrote that submariners, who tend to have higher rates of neuropsychiatric illness, “are confined to tiny living spaces and exposed to manufactured air and artificial light,” and “the submarine environment entails prolonged isolation, which can involve 60 to 90 days of submerged cruising.”

The study also found that sailors aboard nuclear submarines tended to be at a higher risk for psychological disorders.

Long overlooked in militaries around the world, mental health is an important part of determining the overall readiness of a force.

For China, psychological evaluations were not included as part of the military recruitment process until 2006, and mental health services for Chinese troops are still works in progress.

Recognizing that life aboard naval vessels can be challenging for sailors, the US Navy began embedding psychologists aboard aircraft carriers in the 1990s, and it saw a dramatic decrease in emergency evacuations and administrative separations for misbehavior.

This important program, known as the embedded Mental Health Program (eMHP), was later extended to additional surface vessels and appeared to be similarly effective.

An eMHP for the Navy’s submarine force was piloted in 2013 in Norfolk, Virginia and showed positive results, reducing annual unplanned losses from 22 to 2 by 2016, when the program was expanded to provide greater mental health support to the larger submarine force.

The Navy also set up eMHP services for Marines and the special operations forces as well.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, according to the latest Department of Defense assessment of the Chinese military, is the largest naval force in the world, but its capabilities still trail behind those of the US Navy.

The overall quality of the Chinese navy is improving though as China builds new classes of ships and submarines and pushes forward with efforts to build a world-class fighting force by the middle of this century.

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