Relations between Taipei and Beijing have been improving since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomingtang Party came to power in Taiwan two years ago, promising to bolster bilateral trade and allowing the inflow of growing numbers of Chinese tourists. So there is no need for China to invade Taiwan. However, some casually toss around the idea of China invading Taiwan. This shows a complete lack of understanding of the military situation and military history. Taiwan’s defense used to be a no-brainer. Taiwan had air superiority. Only now is that air superiority coming into doubt. China is developing a credible threat but that threat is not fully here yet and Taiwan can do things now to prevent China from being able to execute a successful attack even up to 2020 and beyond.
Military History and the Challenge of Invading Islands
The Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg, was fought on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa and was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific War
The US was able to hit Okinawa with 102,000 Army and 81,000 Marine Corps personnel. The Japanese land campaign (mainly defensive) was conducted by the 67,000-strong (77,000 according to some sources) regular Thirty-Second Army and some 9,000 Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) troops at Oroku naval base (only a few hundred of whom had been trained and equipped for ground combat), supported by 39,000 drafted local Ryukyuan people (including 24,000 hastily-conscripted rear militia called Boeitai and 15,000 non-uniformed laborers).
The US military command staff calculated that superior quality and numbers of weapons gave each U.S. division five or six times the firepower of a Japanese division.
Taiwan has 290,000 to 400,000 active military personnel. Taiwan has 1,675,000 military reserve. There is still a draft so all of the military reserve have served at least a couple of years in the military.
Taiwan is a way tougher military nut to crack than Okinawa. It would be a D-Day scale operation for China. I have lived in Taiwan and I know that the defense is dug into the mountains and other areas.
The growing size and quality of China’s missile arsenal, along with other advances in Chinese military capabilities, call into question the United States’ and Taiwan’s ability to defend the island against a large-scale Chinese attack. In this volume, the authors employ a mix of theater-level combat modeling, simpler mathematical models, historical analysis, interviews with experts, and qualitative judgment to evaluate both the China-Taiwan political dynamic and the cross-strait military balance. Shlapak et al. conclude with a discussion of how Taiwan might be successfully defended against a Chinese invasion attempt.
In 2005, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense found that to ensure the defense of Taiwan, the Taiwan military needed nine Patriot PAC-III anti-missile batteries, 12 anti-submarine surveillance aircraft and 10 diesel submarines, while the proposed package calls for six PAC-III batteries, 12 anti-submarine aircraft and eight diesel submarines.
Taiwan has at least four Patriot batteries with at least 330 missiles.
In 2008, Twain got upgrades of four E-2T aircraft to the Hawkeye 2000 configuration (US$250 million), 32 UGM-84L sub-launched Harpoon Block II missiles and two exercise missiles (US$200 million), 182 Javelin guided missile rounds and 20 Javelin command launch units (US$47 million) and spare parts for various aircraft, including F-16s, the Indigenous Defense Fighter, C-130Hs and F-5s (US$334 million).
Taiwan has four submarines and 9 destroyers and 22 frigates.
In May, an estimated 6,500 Taiwanese soldiers, including elite forces, took part in Taiwan’s biggest war game exercise in more than a year.
Rand Amphibious Assault Analysis and Taiwan Defense
In the interest of creating the largest plausible reasonable challenge for the defender, we will assume that the PLA need only achieve numerical parity with the defending forces—about 60,000 troops—to establish a sufficiently robust beachhead to threaten the integrity of Taiwan’s defenses and thereby “win” the “offshore” battle phase. How much and how rapidly must the defense attrit the PLAN’s amphibious force to prevent this?
For analytical purposes, we will spread China’s lift capability—31,000 troops and 600 AFVs—out evenly across all 100 of the ships in the projected fleet, so that each vessel carries 310 troops and six AFVs. Doing the math is straightforward enough: The 100-ship PLAN amphibious fleet must achieve about 194 successful landings to get 60,000 troops ashore. This figure naturally scales linearly with the number of troops required; if we were to assume China required a 2:1 manpower advantage, nearly 400 sorties would be necessary, and so forth. We will look at the offshore battle for a period of five days (to avoid results that are obviously absurd, such as a single amphibious ship making all 194 crossings over a period of, say, six months).
Four lifts each of 100 assault ships amounts to 400 sorties, well
above the 194 we calculated as needed to put 60,000 PLA troops ashore
on Taiwan. To defeat the attack, then, the defenders will need to eliminate
about 210 sorties. This is almost certainly a defense-pessimistic assessment. It seems likely that loss of even a few—perhaps ten or so—of the PLAN’s limited number of amphibious transports in the early hours of an attack would greatly disrupt the Chinese plan and put the entire invasion operation in jeopardy. And, it is not clear that 60,000 troops landed in five days would suffice for a successful invasion. As mentioned earlier, the Allies put about twice that many soldiers into the Normandy battle on its first day. If China were to seek the 3:1 numerical advantage often used as a rule of thumb for successful offensive operations, 180,000
troops—600 sorties or six full lifts’ worth—would be needed. Our assumptions that the entire attack force can sail from the ports
closest to Taiwan and that 12 hours would be adequate time to turn
the ships between sorties could well be unrealistically favorable to the
Rand Study – Adding It Up: The Invasion Threat to Taiwan
China’s growing capabilities have meaningfully changed the calculus regarding a possible attempt to invade Taiwan. A few years ago, a largescale PLA amphibious assault on the island was almost unthinkable; Taiwan and its U.S. ally seemed assured of maintaining a degree of air superiority that all but guaranteed that any cross-strait assault would prove a bloody failure.
Looking to the near future, improved air defense capabilities,
including shipboard defenses, a growing inventory of modern fourthgeneration fighters, and a powerful and flexible force of offensive ballistic missiles place in jeopardy the long-held assumption of the defense’s control of the skies over the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan’s coastline. As we showed in Chapter Four, the PLAAF likely has, or will soon have, a credible ability to challenge the United States and Taiwan for air supremacy, perhaps opening a window for an invasion attempt.
We nonetheless conclude that, even under these circumstances,
an invasion of Taiwan would, in the face of properly prepared defenses,
remain a bold and possibly foolish gamble on Beijing’s part. There are
three main reasons for this.
First, while neither the Chinese military nor Taiwan’s has any track record in large-scale modern warfare, the burdens of conducting a large amphibious offensive—a profoundly difficult and complex undertaking even for the most competent militaries—would make the PLA’s inexperience the more telling. As the defender, Taiwan has the easier job, and could also benefit from having the world’s most powerful and experienced military, that of the United States, as its primary ally.
Second, absent a much-accelerated construction program, the PLAN’s fleet of amphibious shipping will remain modest relative to the magnitude of the requirements for assailing Taiwan. The 100-ship amphibious force we project for China in the early twenty-teens [NOTE: sealift is not good enough now to even try] can only transport about 31,000 troops at a time. Even without taking losses into account, the PLA would still be compelled to complete multiple lifts to put ashore a force adequately sized and supplied to defeat the ROC military on its home ground. While this problem could be somewhat ameliorated by the rapid capture of an intact port, proper defensive preparations (e.g., preplanted demolition charges that can be remotely detonated) can reduce the risks to the defender. And, the commercial ships that might be used to move troops and equipment into a port would be very vulnerable to the same tactics and weapons used against the PLAN’s vessels—probably more so than their naval counterparts, since commercial ships would not have been constructed to military damage-control standards and would lack any but the most rudimentary and ad hoc defensive weaponry.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have argued that Taiwan could—provided proper concepts were embraced, plans developed, hardware acquired, and personnel trained—present a reasonably robust, layered defense even without friendly air superiority. Over the horizon, engagement by long-range ASCMs launched from air, sea, and shore would weaken and disrupt the Chinese task force; mines hastily deployed offshore would slow and further disrupt the choreography of the assault; and attacks employing hundreds of shorter-range missiles from helicopters and fixed and mobile launchers ashore and focused on the amphibious ships during the last few miles of their run in to shore would wreak further havoc on the strength and organization of the attack. Finally, a variety of weapons, from air-launched PGMs and artillery, rocket, and mortar fire to direct fire from tanks and antitank missiles, could be brought to bear against PLAN transports while they were unloading—and highly vulnerable—on the beach. Taken together, this “four-rings” approach to defending Taiwan, if properly prepared for and executed, could still turn any Chinese invasion attempt into a bloody fiasco.
It is not clear that this kind of stout defense could be mounted today were it called for. Large numbers of antiship missiles, whether longer-range ones like the Hsiung Feng or the smaller, Hellfire-class variety, are needed, employing multiple survivable (both mobile and small and well-concealed) launchers. To negate the effects of Chinese interdiction efforts on the movement of supplies to beach defenses, adequate stockpiles of these weapons as well as other materiel need to be securely prepositioned near likely invasion targets. Taiwan should more fully exploit countermeasures to Chinese targeting, including the extensive use of camouflage, concealment, and deception (e.g., decoys), and electronic warfare. Finally, the ROC military would need to systematically practice these tactics, and fine-tune its ability to respond quickly and effectively to the limited warning time—possibly denominated in hours, and certainly not likely to be more than a handful of days—that would precede a Chinese attack like the one examined here.