Saturday, July 23, 2011

Taiwanese navy must turn asymmetrical

The days when the Taiwanese navy could rely on technological superiority to overcome numerical inferiority are gone, James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara argue

The Taiwanese navy can no longer hope to compete with China for control of the waters adjoining Taiwan and should instead embark on a program that focuses on “sea denial,” two academics argue in a landmark study of Taiwan’s naval strategy.

Calling for a break with Taiwan’s naval power paradigm, Chinese navy experts James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara of the US Naval War College write that denying the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) use of the waters around Taiwan would be nearly as effective for homeland defense as fighting for outright sea control, as designated in the current strategy.

To achieve sea denial — the naval strategy of the weaker side in a conflict — Taipei would have to “forgo its desire for sea control” and “resist the allure of the high-end ships strong navies use to take command of vital expanses,” they write in the 67-page Defending the Strait: Taiwan’s Naval Strategy in the 21st Century published this week by the Jamestown Foundation, adding that “reconfiguring the fleet and devising inventive tactics would let the ROCN [Republic of China Navy] take advantage of the island’s geography.”

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Taiwan Echo said...

I'm no expert of maritime military tactics, but, the following suggestion by James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara looks naive to me:

'Taiwan should develop and deploy “swarms of small surface and subsurface combatants” to wage a “people’s war at sea” that would make its naval forces “an exceptionally hard target that packs a wallop.” '

Didn't they know that "swarms of massive units" is what China good at ? It should have been clear via several wars China involved before. It won't be a surprise if China do it again --- for example, against USA's fleets, which I believe is with high likelihood. Let alone against Taiwan's navy. I just don't see how Taiwan can compete on "numbers" with China.

"It will also mean abandoning the concept of surface action groups (SAG) inherited from the US Navy", "This would require changes in fleet and culture"

Yea, give up what we good at, and pick up what the enemy good at --- from behind. What is that gonna achieve, other than open the door for the enemy ? I wonder ......

Sure, Ma Ying-jeou welcomes it. I have no doubt.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

@Taiwan Echo: Thanks for the comment. I’ve had a chance to read the entire 67 pages, and I can assure you that Holmes and Yoshihara are not advocating a strategy that would be detrimental to Taiwan’s security. Whether this is the best solution, given current trends, is a matter of debate, and in that regard their brief is a step in the right direction.

Their argument stems from the realization that Taiwan cannot hope to compete boat-for-both with the PLAN, at least not on current defense budgets. You’re right in that the PLAN is conceivable proficient in “people’s war at sea” using “swarms of units.” However, the PLAN orbat now comprises vessels small and large and an increasing number of high-value, high-tech platforms of the type seen in SAGs. What this means is that the PLAN has enough effectives to adopt a two-prong and flexible strategy of high-value and small but fast. Taiwan doesn’t.

Also, given Taiwan’s size and geography, the bulk of the ROCN is anchored at a small number of ports. Given the size and (increasing precision) of China’s SRBM and MRBM component, it wouldn’t be very difficult for the PLA to wipe out the ROCN with a series of missile attacks. Finite budgets for the ROCN means that if budgets are directed at high-value and expensive platforms alone, their number will accordingly be small.

The alternative that Holmes and Yoshihara (who studied here in Taiwan, by the way) are proposing is diversification and a spreading out of the ROCN so that it would be more difficult for the PLA to annihilate the ROCN in one day. However much I like the Kidd-class and Aegis ships, I think their argument makes a lot of sense.

Taiwan Echo said...

Thanks for the explanation, Michael. I think it does make sense to deter the sea attacks a bit longer. I'll need to read more in order to understand how their suggestions could possibly work, especially when China has a lot more people and cares less about human lives.

In the end, if Taiwan government keeps blurring the line of sovereignty between Taiwan and China, any tactic will go in vein no matter how good it is. In this case, I wonder if there's any motivation in the military to modify in any way to prepare for a war against a state that Ma is so eager to annex Taiwan to.