Scott Taylor/US Navy
- Washington and #Taipei are hinting at combined work on a new #Taiwan defense policy
- Taiwan can create a "contested zone" for the People's Liberation Army #PLA in and around the #Taiwan Strait
- Taiwan to build force structure driven by three-pronged strategy: asymmetry, combat credibility and survivability
The Obama administration has fumbled in denying Taiwan the additional F-16s it badly needs and instead offering upgrades to the existing older fleet. Among other problems, this move sends the message that China can have a veto over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as long as mainland officials object loudly enough. While President Obama's decision to deny Taiwan a credible air force adds to Taipei's defense burdens, all may not be lost. Washington and Taipei are hinting at combined work on a new Taiwan defense policy.
Up until recently, Taiwan's military has tried to meet China's threat symmetrically. For example, its naval fleet is built around large capital ships such as destroyers. The Taiwan Army is still a heavy, lumbering force.
"If the Obama Administration is unwilling to sell Taiwan big-ticket weapons, it can still help Taiwan develop this 'contested zone' strategy."
Now Taiwanese and U.S. defense officials are talking about reshaping the island's military strategy to pit Taiwan's strengths against China's weaknesses. The Obama administration can help Taiwan build a force structure driven by a three-pronged strategy of asymmetry, combat credibility and survivability.
Taipei can take a page out of Beijing's own "anti-access" strategy for dealing with the U.S. China has successfully built precision-guided forces, submarine and mining capabilities, and integrated air defenses (IADS) that can make American intervention in area's close to China a bloody affair.
Similarly, Taiwan can create a "contested zone" for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in and around the Taiwan Strait. To do so, it would need to invest more in mines, submarines, small fast-attack ships, integrated air defenses, and cruise and ballistic missiles.
Beijing's scenarios for war with Taiwan envision a quick, decisive campaign that it hopes will bring the island to terms quickly. Its model is the aerospace component of NATO's 1990s strategy in Kosovo, i.e. coercion rather than occupation. It wants to pound the island with its missile and aerospace forces to bring it to its knees, but it will hesitate to bring in ground troops.
Taiwan can take advantage of Beijing's squeamishness about coming ashore by showing that the PLA cannot win without "boots on the ground." Taiwan needs to develop the credible combat capability to fight a war that exacts a high price in blood and treasure from Chinese forces.
A premium should be placed on withstanding an onslaught of Chinese missiles through active and passive missile defenses, and an IADS system that can shoot down follow-on aircraft. There would also be a role for submarines and small-attack craft armed with anti-ship cruise missiles to break blockades and "swarm" Chinese ships headed to the island. Cruise and ballistic missiles would be needed to slow the movement of Chinese vessels and thin out air strikes.
These capabilities need to be knit together with an excellent command control, communications and intelligence and surveillance network, to allow Taiwan's smaller ships and submarines, missiles and surviving aircraft to target any enemy forces in the Strait.
While creating an anti-access battle network would be the main element of the strategy, Taiwan's ground forces need to change too. The army must not only prepare to repel an amphibious landing, but also show it can bleed the PLA dry should Chinese forces establish a beachhead. Mines, artillery and massive stocks of lethal munitions are required to make invasion a horrific proposition.
The Taiwan armed forces need to employ small-unit, dispersed tactics to fight forces that make it to the island. Ground units should emphasize the use of snipers as well as a military cadre who can organize civil militia-like resistance by the population at the city and village level. Finally, Taiwan needs robust mobilization plans, including the stockpiling of food and fuel.
While the new F-16s would also play a critical role in this new strategy--every military needs some capability to protect its airspace--Taipei should direct resources elsewhere until President Obama or his successor reverses this regrettable decision. Taiwan can focus its investments on smaller, more survivable naval platforms; more lethal, precision-guided munitions; and a ground force that can sustain its fighting capability over the long haul.
If the Obama Administration is unwilling to sell Taiwan big-ticket weapons, it can still help Taiwan develop this "contested zone" strategy. The U.S. should ramp up ongoing military ties to provide know-how and sell Taiwan lower profile, high-value capabilities that help the island develop precision strike forces and a more mobile, lethal ground force.
One day Taiwan will get the air force it needs. In the meantime it should start to build "no go" zones around the island that signal to China that war is not worth the price.
Dan Blumenthal is a resident scholar at AEI.