Friday, January 06, 2012

Facing Reality in the Cross-Strait Balance of Power

Rather than enter a plane-for-plane arms race with China, Taiwan must adopt an asymmetrical strategy that involves a focus on offensive weapons and the means to render the cost of war too high for China

For years, defense experts have predicted there would come a time when the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait would shift in Beijing’s favor. That moment has arrived, and barring a catastrophic implosion in China, there is no going back. For more than a decade, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has benefited from substantial increases in annual defense expenditure. What are the implications for Taiwan, and how can Taipei best deal with the great changes brought about by the shift in the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait?

My full paper, presented to the Taiwan Society on Thursday, can be downloaded here. My presentation can be watched here.


Michael Fagan said...

The position you argue for (deterrance) is obvious; I'm amazed you feel it even has to be argued.

Some points:

1) On the ATMS as an offensive possibility, wasn't there already an order made for these in 2010? Is there any word on where this is at? Have the Chinese put the cock-blocker on it?

2) Other than indigenous cruise missiles, are there other offensive capabilities you can think of (not nukes, obviously)? Would you fancy the railgun on a Navy vessel for instance (but could it be properly defended)?

2) Doing things on the cheap... yes, but since defense really ought to be an overriding priority for any administration, investment in submarines and other potentially "game-changing" capabilities must be funded by redirecting money away from the nonsense of Taiwan's state dominated education system, which should be privatized anyway (put the Marxist academics and other assorted Lefties out of "work").

3) Attack helicopters, in Taiwan's case, are stupid. I cannot understand what possible use they would have - if the Sukhois don't knock them out of the air, it's quite likely ground forces would. And they are enormously expensive - I cannot believe the Army not only wastes money on Cobras with dodgy M197s, but is even adding Apaches... this is serious arse/elbow confusion.

4) Harriers. Even if Taiwan were to purchase GR9s, pitting them against China's Sukhoi's in over the horizon scenarios (even armed with TC-1s) is not something I'd be confident about. As an offensive weapon viz ground targets in China, they'd be hopeless as they would not even get anywhere near enough their targets to fire their AGMs. That we are even talking about Harriers highlights the utter farce the F-35 program has become.

It's depressing enough as it is, but the electoral nonsense going on at the minute and the fact that defense and fiscal restraint scarcely generate any substantial attention is a bit hard to take.

Michael Fagan said...

Another point - often overlooked - is public preparation to deal with the consequences of one or another form of PLA attack.

I hope it never occurs, but we're barely a decade out of the 20th century...

Energy and communications are obvious points to worry about, but then there is psychology too; among the people (civilians) I talk to, it seems to me that most of them don't even bother thinking about the likely play of consequences and the need to drill rational responses to such an emergency.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Mike: Apologies for the delayed response. The elections have kept me very busy. While a good number of people seem to argue with my position on deterrence, others remain beholden to the high-profile, highly expensive acquisitions that characterized past programs. Even today within the military, there are key decision makers who see such acquisitions as the No. 1 ticket for career promotion. So in that way, yes, I think it still needs to be argued, especially as the audience I was addressing in my presentation had nothing to do with the military (most of them were university professors in unrelated fields).

I also don't think everybody, even military thinkers, understand the necessity of ensuring air superiority in conflicts pitting two modern military forces.

The order for the ATACMS was placed in December 2010, so we can expect everything to be progressing smoothly. As I'm sure you know, there's a difference between notification to Congress, which by no means equates acquisition, and the placing of an actual order.

Yes, theoretically (and I believe we've discussed this before), rail guns would be an option. I think the nuclear option would be very dangerous and would invite a preemptive strike. The key to nuclear deterrence is having enough warheads and launchers to ensure survivability of at least a few warheads for retaliation. I don't think BJ would be patient enough as to allow Taiwan to reach such a point (and given the penetration of the Taiwanese military and political system by Chinese intelligence, BJ would not very quickly if Taipei were going nuclear).

Artillery, longer-range missiles with greater launcher dispersion or mobility, smaller warheads... I think that should be the main focus.

I agree on the Harriers, which performed poorly in the Falklands against a much weaker enemy. Those are not air-superiority platforms and could not hope to compete with China's fourth-gen fighters.

Michael Fagan said...


Thanks for the response - the nukes thing is obviously a big no-no for a host of reasons (and at something not too far ahead of its current stage of development I don't think the rail-gun could be used for anything other than a point defense function; defending a naval deployment of a rail-gun would surely be next to impossible).

On artillery... what would be wrong with simply buying a few hundred more Oerlikon 35mm in addition to the fifty we already have? That would increase the spread and depth of short-range defensive fire for any incoming missile bombardment. Is it possible that might be a more cost effective tactic than multiple PAC deployment? I suppose there is the issue of warheads potentially filled with some nasty chemicals, but I wouldn't have thought the PRC would risk nukes.

"...acquisitions as the No. 1 ticket for career promotion..."

It seems to me the rational decision would be to abolish the Army entirely and transfer their useful assets to the Airforce and/or the Navy (sell or scrap the rest of their kit, including AHs and the Army's enormous land holdings). I remember visiting the Army's officer training school in Fongshan, Kaohsiung some years ago. Aside from the near complete lack of firearms training (twice annual practice, and they don't even practice rifle cleaning drills), what impressed me most was the size of the grounds; I remember thinking what effect this could potentially have on property values were the land to be sold off to private developers.

Yes I checked on the ATMS order; the DoD contract states delivery in November next year and one or two people I know of in the States wondered what the hell I was on about - they seemed to think it's plain sailing. (I'd read a summary of recent orders elsewhere that stated some uncertainty about the ATMS order.)