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Vietnam: First Domestically Produced Mini-Submarine By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0005 / 2015


We seek your assessment of reports concerning a “made in Vietnam” submarine. See below: Here is some information about the submarine: Phan Boi Tran, a descendant of Phan Boi Chau – a celebrated 20th century nationalist, has become the first submarine inventor in Vietnam. He has created a mini-submarine called Yet Kieu.

Yet Kieu submarine is 3.2 meters long, 1 meter high and 1 meter wide, weighs over 1 ton and has all the functions of a real submarine. It runs on a three-phase electric power source. Theoretically it can reach an incredible speed, up to 50 knots, faster than a destroyer. This submarine is believed to have higher durability than others in its class, thanks to its composite hull. Phan Boi Tran said he decided to make a hull of composite material instead of steel because it is easier and cheaper to make a prototypes. With 10,000 USD, Tran claims that he will be able to make the hull for a mini-submarine. Tran thinks his submarine does not need anti-radar coating like normal warships because not only its hull but also its periscope and conning tower are made of composite material. Yet Kieu submarine is equipped with torpedoes with amazing speed and some secret guided weapons. In near future, Tran will have some heritage money and he wants to use this money to make a 6 metre long submarine, with 2 torpedoes and a special module. The module will help to extend the submarine’s operational range to 1,000 km from its base. Tran believes that his future mini-submarine fleet can be as powerful as the US 7th Fleet. Regarding to attack tactics for his submarine fleet, Tran said he will use “wolfpack” or mass-attack tactics used by German U-boats of the Kriegsmarine during the Battle of the Atlantic. Tran reckons that with special module above, his submarine fleet will meet the modern combat demands.

We request your assessment of the following: Q1- Yet Kieu submarine does have its skeptics. Many think that the manufacture of quality submarines is out of reach of Vietnamese capabilities. Is a mini-submarine with those technical characteristics feasible or not?

ANSWER: Manufacturing a modern submarine capable to undertaking all the tasks required is beyond Vietnam’s capabilities at the moment. Vietnam has already had to put off building large frigates due to lack of experience with the level of technology required; but Vietnam is gaining experience in assembling kits provided by Russia and Vietnam is also constructing it own gun boats (tau phao) based on Russian designs. Even Australia has had great difficulties in building its Collin-class conventional submarines and even when they were constructed they had many technical problems. The claims for the Yet Kieu submarine quoted in the report above are exaggerated if not fanciful.

Q2- Are mini-submarines and wolfpack tactics still suitable for modern warfare? ANSWER: The mini-submarine of the type suggested is too small to carry heavy torpedoes sufficient to damage a principal surface combatant – corvette, frigate or destroyer. The submarine would have an extremely limited range and could only stay submerged for short periods. Vietnam’s enhanced Kilo-class submarines could operate effectively in groups. But t should be recalled that the German wolf pack submarines fired torpedoes and had to get relatively close to their targets. Modern submarines, while they do carry heavy torpedoes, also carry anti-ship cruise missiles that can be launched while submerged. They can attack at greater distance. The Yet Kieu will lack these capabilities. These deficiencies are apparent in the two Yugoclass mini-submarines Vietnam acquired from North Korea.

Q3 – Vietnam is a small country and does not have a high scientific and technological standards. How could it start constructing “made in Vietnam” submarines and weapons?

ANSWER: Vietnam’s shipyards are gradually producing larger and more sophisticated ships suitable for the Navy and the Coast Guard. Vietnam already produces the TT 400TP (tuan tra, tau phao). Vietnam has built ships displacing 2,000 tons. It will take time to master the technology. Vietnam will gain this experience when it constructs the Dutch Sigma-class frigates in Vietnam. The best way to gain experience is under license and through co-production.

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email: Carlthayer@webone.com.au)

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