US Thinktank Wargames China Attacking Taiwan and Recommends Arms Buildup

The CSIS International Security Program for the launch of a new report titled The First Battle of the Next War: Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan by Mark Cancian, Matthew Cancian, and Eric Heginbotham. This event will feature a presentation by the report’s authors and a panel discussion with Lt Gen David A. Deptula USAF (Ret.), Becca Wasser, and Professor William S. Murray.

This CSIS project designed a wargame to model a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan in 2026 and ran it 24 times in a variety of scenarios. Although Taiwan survived as an autonomous entity in most scenarios, losses to the United States, Taiwan, and Japan were heavy.

Insights across the 24 game iterations included the vulnerability of surface ships, the massive coalition aircraft losses on the ground, the effectiveness of long-range antiship missiles, the critical importance of Taiwanese ground forces, and the need for access to operating bases in Japan. Based on the insights, the project makes a variety of recommendations to strengthen deterrence.

I have seen the wargaming. The wargame assumes that China can pound Taiwan for weeks and months to take out or damage the air and missile defenses in the mountains. They do not mention that global stock and financial markets crash by 50% on the first day or two of this offensive, where the US would be forced to act quickly. It also does not go into how utterly crappy China’s pilots are and have they have no hope of succeeding in taking out air defenses in the mountains.

The conclusion seems to be lets spend hundreds of billions more on smaller ships and air base improvements so the US can keep aircraft carriers further back. Is it a valid set of wargame scenarios or one that wanted to get the conclusion that hundreds of billions need to be spent on procurement for airbase defences and new, different Navy ships and other gear?

They do not discuss just transferring 100-300 older F-16 and F-18 to Taiwan in a prewar phase (one year or more in advance so Taiwan can train up) and loading Taiwan up with more missiles and artillery.

The military and US intelligence would be some kind of massively incompetent to allow planes to get wrecked on the ground. Intelligence got wind of the Russian pre-emptive attempt to take out Ukrainian planes on the ground. Russia tried and they failed via US and UK intelligence.

Taiwan has an eighty to one-hundred-twenty mile ocean moat. Faster military ships take five hours to cross the strait. All of the casual analysts do not consider how much time Taiwan has to sink the ships crossing. All kinds of time for missiles to shoot. How much time? The time for ships to cross the Stait is between the time to watch both Avatar 1 and Avatar 2 and watching all three Lord of the Rings movies.

This is a movie depiction of crossing the 3 miles of the Volga River in WW2 to support Stalingrad.

Here is a picture of part of the Volga river crossing.

Taiwan has access to US and commmercial satellites to watch and target ships crossing the Strait. It would be a shooting gallery.

If China has to pound Taiwan for weeks and months then TSMC and the world financial markets are wrecked while China is trying to take out the missiles and artillery in the mountains.

Here is the problem with China trying to take out each antimissile battery. Normally you would have two planes, one acting as a decoy while the other hits the antimissile battery. This is Tom Cruise-Top Gun level flight missions. This would need to be done for all of the anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles batteries and artillery. China’s pilots have less than one hundred hours per year of flight time. They are barely trained enough to fly at night and in bad weather.

Here is a video descrbing the US using wild weasle tactices to slowly degrade the surface to air missile sites in Vietnam.

Here is some discussion of electronic jamming of defences and hitting SAM missiles in Iraq Desert Storm.

Remember Taiwan missiles can withdraw in hardened mountain caves and can limit any exposure.

Here is an example of bunker busters hitting a cave complex. This is so much harder because you need to launch from a lower, slower and more vulnerable heavy bomber. Each bomb-missile is heavier and more difficult to deliver each shot versus hitting exposed anti-aircraft in a field or just in a forest.

China has not fought a war since the 1979 Vietnam border war and then before that the (1950-1953) Korean War.

We are dealing with the only-child grandchildren of actual veteran soldiers or actual veteran pilots.

The soldiers are experienced with beating up Uyghurs or domestic anti-COVID restriction riots.

30 thoughts on “US Thinktank Wargames China Attacking Taiwan and Recommends Arms Buildup”

  1. Why bother to invade? Blockade, starvation & infrastructure destruction will bring about victory in six months.

    • And TSMC (taiwan Semiconductor) and the world economy would be wrecked. No new iphones and iPads of nvidia chips etc… The US and the world would not sit still while stock markets and financial markets tank. 80-90% of the advanced chips cut off. More impact than cutting off all middle east oil. It is delusional to think that the US would not attack.

  2. They won’t really try for it unless Xi, in his self-induced information vacuum, makes a singularly bad decision–excuse me, another singularly bad decision.

    My understanding is that for any real chance of getting enough boots on the ground, China has something like 9 troop carriers, almost all of which would have to survive long enough to unload on the (few) beaches of Taiwan. These carriers would spend something like 6 to 9 hours crossing the straits (and that does not include unloading time if they ever actually got to the island).

    And these troop carriers would have to spend all those hours in the shade created by all the missiles descending on them . . . and nine large troop ships are nothing like 300 Spartans.

  3. Before America build up, There should be a Taiwan build up, we need to open our weapons warehouses to Taiwan just like we are opening them to Ukraine. Spendings on weapon design and manufacturing will need need to increase, technical know how should be transferred to Taiwan, China is not going to like it, but for the time being they cannot do much about it.

    • Perhaps pull a Reverse Bay-of-Pigs-Cuba programme. Attempt to provide ‘Strategic’ rather than tactical WMD ‘deterrents’ to the Island.

  4. Hm, did the war game include a US President running the Strategic petroleum reserve dry in preparation for the war? (The most important munition China buys is other nations’ politicians.)

    Or the Chinese deliberately initiating a Kessler cascade just prior, to knock out orbital assets?

    Covid 27, released outside the country this time?

    Thermonuclear bombs stationed in major ports around the world, blackmailing the world’s powers into staying out of it?

    Something about gaming the last war…

    • Russia tried the nuclear blackmail, but the west called the bluff.

      Giving in to gangsters does not lower the risk of war, rather the opposite.

      • Russia barely made the slightest gesture in the direction of nuclear blackmail. I expect if China does nuclear blackmail, it will be a bit more direct. As in, “Back down, now, or lose your Eastern seaboard. The bombs are already in place.”

        But, as I said, the most important munition China purchases is foreign politicians. Crippling opposing militaries by deploying those ‘munitions’ will be as much a part of their war plan as bombing.

        • Did the wargaming have a half dozen destroyers interdicting Chinese Oil Tankers in the Straits of Malacca? Where within a month, the cars and trucks in China quit moving. And, within 3 months the lights start going out?

          • Right. Not even that. You can practically hire 3rd party mercenaries with decent enough ships to block the strait. These Chinese blue water navy is barely up to the task at power projection. I bet a few up-armed ships could hold the thing for several days or even weeks.

        • There is still ye olde MAD doctrine, Mutually Assured Destruction.

          Everyone has deterrence. Everyone wants to trade. War is crazy.

    • “Thermonuclear bombs stationed in major ports around the world, blackmailing the world’s powers into staying out of it?”

      And how about that big dam across the three gorges? What happens when a nuke hits it?
      Problem for China being once they blackmail the world and the oil tankers go missing it can be hard to ascribe blame to one particular country. There’s a reason why as bad as Russia-Ukraine has been that some targets have not been hit.

  5. Taiwan. Even if China wins, it loses. Also, they needed a “thinktank” to come to that conclusion? *shakes head*

    • Whether China goes to war will not be decided on the basis of whether China wins, any more than whether Russia went to war in Ukraine was based on whether Russia would win.

      It’s down to whether Xi thinks he personally wins, doing it. His personally winning is not incompatible with most of the people in China ending up much worse off.

      That’s what it’s like dealing with dictatorships, and both Russia and China are dictatorships that barely even pretend to engage in democracy.

      • If Xi had an ounce of sense in him he would use Taiwan’s continued independent existence as a perpetual cause to forever rally the nation around him. Taiwan is more useful to him when it is independent as it justifies his policies and he doesn’t need to deal with the negative consequences of actually trying to retake it.

        Yes dealing with dictatorships is tricky. It is all about the fallibility of a single person.

  6. Can anyone tell me when’s the last time China got involved in a “major” war? 1979? And that was a border war where they went a few dozen miles in? And they didn’t exactly do terribly well, despite fighting with a numerical advantage against what amounted to reserve forces.

    • Xi Jinping is serious about seizing Taiwan. To underestimate this would be a fatal mistake. Remember that Taiwan is a key part of the island chain containing China’s access to the Indo-Pacific, and also the most vulnerable part of it.

      I find that Brian Wang does a lot of wumao messaging when he keeps arguing against reinforcing Taiwan’s defenses. Those defenses must be reinforced in order to deter the growing threat from China. Better safe than sorry.

      Nextly, all those older planes are headed for decommissioning anyway, so by keeping them around it allows for Taiwan’s defenses to be reinforced on the cheap. They still have adequate capabilities against Chinese weapons technology.

      • President Xi may well covet control of Taiwan, but he will have to employ non-military options to try to achieve this. He is not so foolish as to stake his legacy on a direct challenge to the U.S. military. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be treated as an existential threat by the U.S., and we have never seen the U.S. military face a threat it could take its gloves off for. Though we HAVE seen the enormous advantage conveyed by U.S. logistical support and military experience, as their advising Ukrainian commanders on the ground flipped the war w Russia on its head and turned it into a rout in many parts of the country. Xi will not underestimate the deep experience advantage the U.S. holds in making real-time combat decisions. China has nothing comparable.

      • Japan is looking to buy 500 tomahawk cruise missiles as a deterrent to China attacking them. Maybe best for Taiwan to increase production of Hsiung Fengs.

        • Japan has the second most powerful navy in the world. Japanese submarines, along those from Indian US, Britain, Vietnam and Singapore) could slip in and destroy large transports and disappear without a trace.

          • I seriously think the US needs a greywater fleet, similar to what China does to pull this sort of stuff. A large mercenary flotilla that’s been uparmed to come in and “interrupt” any transports

          • The Tomahawks are purely for offensive strikes against targets on the mainland of China. If China lobs missiles at Japan then Japan fires the cruise missiles at Chinese targets.

  7. I mean, it’s not like a think tank can tell the Armed Forces “let’s bet on our adversaries being incompetent,” even if they may be incompetent. It’s much better to be pleasantly surprised by a more incompetent enemy than unpleasantly surprised by a more competent one.

    Disclaimer: I hope to God Almighty that it never actually comes to that, and China can more-or-less peacefully democratise the way that Taiwan has. Without the need for strongmen, we may see a China which we need not fear becoming a hegemonic superpower.

  8. I always consult with my goto World Politics War Resource:
    ISW’s Military Learning & The Future of War series – URBAN WARFARE: LEARNING, TRAINING, AND IMPLICATIONS FOR TAIWAN (free download)
    “…The complex urban environment allows adversary combatants to hide among civilians and creates high risks for collateral damage. Fighting in urban terrain inherently benefits defenders or insurgents who operate asymmetrically or can exploit an opponent’s aversion to causing collateral damage. … The PLA’s capacity to engage effectively in urban warfare at scale is an important benchmark for evaluating its prospects of using force to realize control of Taiwan. Urban battlefields have often featured new technologies and necessitated the development of novel capabilities. The growing prevalence in urban combat of unmanned aerial and ground systems—drones—is a recent example of that trend. These systems can improve intelligence support at the tactical level, lessen the risks faced by troops, and facilitate the targeting of other weapon systems. The PLA’s avid interest in drones that could become more “intelligent” and autonomous in their operations reflects its belief that US, Russian, and Israeli military operations have already proven the efficacy of drones in urban combat. The complexity of the urban environment means that the PLA’s preparations for urban warfare will test the utility and reliability of its drone capabilities, as well as its other advanced technologies, and serve as a benchmark for the PLA’s progress toward “military intelligentization” (智能化). …”

      • Yes. Thanks. Further:
        “…The current edition of the Science of Military Strategy mentions an urban offensive (城市进攻) as a major component of island operations (岛上作战) but does not elaborate on the conduct of such an offensive, likely because of the sensitivity of this scenario. This campaign could present a particular challenge, given that over 90 percent of Taiwan’s population lives in cities….”

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