In the latest move, the State Department in Oct 2020 approved plans to sell $1.8 billion of arms to Taiwan, including precision air-to-surface cruise missiles. In the years since, beside sending senior officials to Taiwan, the Trump administration has increased the frequency of U.S. Navy ships sailing through the Taiwan Strait, and sold arms to Taiwan with greater regularity — and less concern about China’s objections — than past administrations.
The island is in a precarious position. Beijing claims the self-governing island as part of its territory and threatens to annex it — by force, if necessary. Even though Taiwan has its own government, democratic elections and army, most governments around the world don’t recognize it as a country. Under President Xi Jinping, China has increased military and economic pressure on Taiwan and tried to isolate it diplomatically, in an effort to counter what it suspects are moves toward Taiwan independence.
In recent weeks, the Chinese military has ramped up live-fire drills, including some that simulate battle with Taiwan. China has flown more warplanes than ever across the median line in the Taiwan Strait, with an official in Beijing saying no such line exists. There are also reports that China has beefed up its missile force across from Taiwan with hypersonic DF-17 missiles.
The threats that Taiwan faces are forceful unification from China, from North Korea and South sea China disputes. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) now possesses the capability to impose a blockade on Taiwan and conduct multidimensional operations to seize offshore islands. It has also “established a cyberattack capability to collect its electro-magnetic parameters, monitor, cut off, and interfere with surveillance, reconnaissance, command and control systems.” “The United States called on China to withdraw its missile systems from disputed features in the Spratly Islands, and reaffirmed that all countries should avoid addressing disputes through coercion or intimidation,” the statement said. China is also using its economic muscle to coerce the six Pacific island nations including Vanuatu and Solomon that officially recognise Taiwan in withdrawing their support.
President Tsai Ing-wen, who took office in May 2016, has accelerated that development largely in aerospace, submarines and cyber security. She said. “I trust that a more robust defense industry will not only strengthen our military capabilities, but prove beneficial to our overall industrial development as well.
”By 2025, Taiwan’s annual defense spending is projected to increase by at least 20 percent – or NT$62.4 billion ($2.08 billion) – to NT$381.7 billion, the officials said, if the legislature approves the future budgets. Immediate priorities include new missiles, drones and electronic warfare systems, fighter aircraft and ballistic missile defenses, according to a separate statement from the Ministry of National Defence sent to Reuters.
In Sep 2018, the U.S. State Department approved the sale to Taiwan of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to $330 million, prompting China to warn that the move jeopardized Sino-U.S. cooperation. The $330 million request covers spare parts for “F-16, C-130, F-5, Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), all other aircraft systems and subsystems, and other related elements of logistics and program support,” the Pentagon said, adding that it notified Congress of the possible sale.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were a serious breech of international law and harmed Chinese sovereignty and security interests. Military experts said the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted in favor of China, which could probably overwhelm the island unless U.S. forces came quickly to its aid.
Earlier, U.S. Department of State agreed to grant marketing licenses to American defense contractors that offer Taiwan the technology, military officials in Taipei say. Taiwan plans to develop its own conventional submarine.China protested to the United States April 11 over its agreeing to licensing of submarine technology, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying any U.S. effort to “play the Taiwan card” would fail.
Ministry of National Defense (MND) said in a report that Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), has been stationed on Taiwan’s east coast, to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself in the event of an attack. The ability to intercept incoming ballistic and cruise missiles is important both in order to preserve essential military infrastructure enabling Taiwan to defend itself, and other, civilian or dual-use critical infrastructures, and to protect the civilian population and their morale.
Beijing has called Washington’s involvement in the dispute the “greatest” threat to the region, accusing the US of displaying a show of force by increasing its military strength and that of its allies in the region.
China Threat and Taiwan Preparedness
China and Taiwan split in 1949 after Chaing Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces were driven off the mainland by Mao Zedong’s Communists and sought refuge on the island of Taiwan. Although it has never ruled the island, the communist government in Beijing considers it a renegade province that should be reunified with the mainland — by force, if necessary. Chinese President Xi Jinping, was quoted in state media warning Taiwan against independence, saying “no secessionist act will be tolerated” by Beijing.
Taiwan figures in China’s long-term strategic planning. It is part of China’s so-called First Island Chain, the innermost defensive ring of islands that China considers essential for national defense. In the long term, controlling the island is in China’s interests both to shield the mainland and as a springboard to operate into the Second Island Chain.
Beijing has laid claim to nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which an estimated $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year. An assertive China is investing heavily in developing military power, laying claims on island territories, and the air space over the South China and East China seas. China is building islands and building facilities, including airstrips, on those islands with a scope and pace unprecedented in the region.
Taiwan faces an adversary in the maritime domain that is close to its territory and equipped with dozens of attack submarines, hundreds of strike aircraft, thousands of offensive missiles, and tens of thousands of sea mines.
It is estimated that China currently deploys at least 1,500 ballistic missiles aimed at the Island, to which one must add hundreds of land and ship-based cruise missiles. The ballistic missiles deployed by the PLA Rocket Force (formerly the Second Artillery Corps) are among the most visible faces of the continued risk of force being employed against Taiwan, although it may be argued that the possibility of a successful naval blockade is ultimately more threatening.
Based on Taiwan’s own assessment, China’s preparations for an invasion of the island include the following steps: preliminary engagement, electromagnetic control operations, air superiority, sea control operations, and landing.
Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense Yen Ming had once told the national legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee the country’s military could hold out “at least one month” alone against a Chinese invasion. The widening power imbalance in the Taiwan Strait might embolden Beijing to exercise the military option to resolve the issue. The potential for armed conflict has made the Taiwan Strait one of the world’s most worrisome hot spots.
“The Taiwanese navy has begun acquiring small, stealthy patrol craft more suitable for denying the PLA navy access to the waters adjoining Formosa than for fighting a major fleet battle for maritime command. It has armed them with indigenous anti-ship missiles able to give Chinese invaders a bad day. “But the navy is only procuring a dozen such craft —hardly a swarm capable of descending on and defeating a PLA invasion force,” James Holmes, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, argued at The National Interest . “Meanwhile, the Taiwanese navy also maintains a legacy force of destroyers, frigates and amphibious warships best suited to fighting major surface engagements and projecting power onto foreign shores.”
Taiwan has received two sets of Mk. 41 launchers from the United States, Up Media reported in January 2019. Taipei has acquired the license locally to produce additional launchers. The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology is modifying its Hai Kung 3 surface-to-air missile to fit the launchers, according to Up Media. The Republic of China government plans to integrate the VLS and Hai Kung 3 with the Taiwanese navy’s new Hsun Lien naval combat system, which is similar to the U.S. Navy’s own Aegis system.
The ROC fleet possesses at least 14 warships that could be compatible with the Mk. 41. The four Kee Lung -class destroyers are ex-U.S. Navy Kidd-class destroyers. In the 1990s the Americans fitted VLS to Spruance-class destroyers that are roughly similar to the Kidds. The ROC navy also operates 10 Cheng Kung -class frigates that are identical to American Perry-class frigates. The Perrys never had VLS while in U.S. service, but the Australian navy modified three Perry-class vessels with the Mk. 41 system.
Taiwan plans to spend nearly NT$2 billion to upgrade the electronic warfare system on its four Kidd-class destroyers in response to China’s missile threats and to enhance surface-to-air combat capability, according to the Ministry of National Defense (MND). In its 2019 budget proposal, the MND said the upgrade of the AN/SLQ-32 system on the Kidd-class guided missile destroyers is expected to be completed by 2023. The four destroyers are usually deployed in waters off Taiwan’s east coast to carry out early warning missions, as China’s military aircraft frequently conduct training exercises in that area, according to the MND.
It said Taiwan Navy’s defense capabilities heavily depend on the AN/SLQ-32 system, which is outdated and must be upgraded to improve its capabilities to counter the growing threat of more complex radar-guided anti-ship missile systems. Therefore, the ministry said, it is allocating more than NT$1.99 billion to upgrade the AN/SLQ-32 system on four Kidd-class destroyers. The military will also purchase 16 Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) Block IIIA missiles to strengthen its surface-to-air defense capabilities, according to a Navy officer. With a displacement of about 9,000 tons, the Kidd-class destroyer is smaller than some other naval vessels such as the Pan Shi and Wu Yi combat support ships, but it has a huge sonar transducer under its bow that gives it a deep draft of 9.6 meters, according to the official.
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) in its 2017 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) stated that Taiwan’s ability to strike an adversary’s ground-based assets would be limited to attacking military installations. The Ministry of National Defense said on 16th March 2017 in “Taiwan’s Quadrennial Defense Review” (QDR) that the country plans to acquire stealth fighters and vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft to strengthen its defense forces, particularly as China has announced it will increase its military budget 7 percent to a reported US$147 billion this year. The “guiding principle” of the QDR is to “resist the enemy on the other shore, attack the enemy on the sea, destroy the enemy in the littoral area, and annihilate the enemy on the beachhead,” Tsai also called cyber warfare a “growing threat” and said Taiwan “must be more prepared” for it.
The stealth fighters are necessary to combat threats from China, will help support the navy and ground forces in Taiwan and V/STOL aircraft are necessary for rapid response to potential threats to Taiwan, the report added. Taiwan’s strategy with the improved weaponry will be that of “double-level deterrence” to ensure security. Also included in the QDR are plans to strengthen naval capabilities and missile defense systems. Taiwan purchased two decommissioned frigates, USS Taylor and the USS Gary, from the U.S. for about NT$5.5 billion (US$177.21 million).
Fighter jets and other combat aircraft will use Taiwan’s main highway as an emergency airstrip Tuesday, during this year’s Han Kuang series of military exercises. The aircraft will practice emergency take-offs and landings in the central county of Changhua, on the Huatan section of the main north-south National Freeway No. 1 that runs along the island’s west coast. The aircraft drill will be part of a series of live-fire exercises staged over five days, in May 2019.
The Han Kuang exercises, Taiwan’s most important war games, are held each year to test the combat capabilities of all branches of the armed forces, in the face of a continued military threat from China. The landing and takeoff drill is an important part of the combat training for the Air Force in the event of an attack by China, the Air Force said in a statement.
Currently, there are four sections of the main north-south freeway that are designated as emergency runways in the event of war –the Huatan section in Changhua, the Minxiong section in Chiayi, and the Madou and Rende sections in Tainan. Each emergency runway on the freeway is nearly three kilometers long, Peng said, adding that road maintenance, including resurfacing, has been carried out on the freeway in preparation for the exercises.
Another picture shows an infantry vehicle in yellow colour. According to The Drive, the vehicle looks like a Clouded Leopard 8×8 infantry fighting vehicle adapted to look like a yellow civilian crane. “The effect was achieved using a combination of yellow-painted wooden boards and fabric.” The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense (MND) Spokesperson Shih Shun-wen noted that armoured brigade personnel have been ordered to attach camouflage netting to their vehicles and practice utilizing nearby features, city structures, and civilian areas to increase survivability during a potential attack.
Taiwan turns to camouflaging armoured vehicles to enhance survivability
The Taiwanese armed forces kicked off the “Combat Readiness Week” exercise in October 2020. Several armoured vehicles were spotted in urban cities. In a bid to strengthen its armed forces against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that has been muscle-flexing in the region.
The photos of the tanks released by the Taiwanese Military News reveal several varieties of M113 armoured personnel carrier camouflaged blending in urban areas under plants and ferns or coloured patterns reflecting usual urban equipment. Thomas Newdick of The Drive recognizing the variety of military vehicles said that a Cold War-era American-made M60A3 Patton, or a locally upgraded CM-11 and CM-12 Brave Tiger hidden under, what looks like a bridge, covered in a metallic colour, effectively blending with a metal sheet in the background.
RAND report, “Air Defense Options for Taiwan”
RAND report, “Air Defense Options for Taiwan: An Assessment of Relative Costs and Operational Benefits,” suggests that Taiwan downsize its fighter fleet and increase investment in SAM systems. “We estimate that Taiwan will spend about US$22 billion in the next 20 years on the fighter aircraft currently in its fleet with no changes, and another US$3.3 billion to retrofit the F-16 fleet. That is fairly substantial for a military that has averaged about US$10.5 billion in total annual spending in recent years,” the report says. It was written by Michael J. Lostumbo, David R. Frelinger, James Williams and Barry Wilson.
China’s procurement and development of fighter aircraft, surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, land-attack cruise missiles and bomber aircraft advancements are not slowing, and could pulverize Taiwan’s air bases within hours of a war, the report says. None of Taiwan’s fighter aircraft would survive or be deployable on runways turned into a lunar landscape.
The report finds that the acquisitions that will turn the tide against Taiwan include current J-11B upgrade (J-16), armed with improved PL-15 air-to-air missiles and active electronically scanned array radar, procurement of Russian Su-35 fighter aircraft, Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system (400 kilometer range, allowing for coverage for the first time of all of Taiwan island), indigenous development of stealthy fighters that include the J-20 and J-31, and unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
“It is plausible that only fifth-generation fighters, such as the F-22 and JSF [F-35], will be able to counter a numerically superior fourth-generation ‘plus’ fighter, such as J-16, if operated by a determined and competent pilot,” the report says. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) in its 2013 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) identified its principal objectives in the maritime domain to be the expansion and improvement of surveillance, early-warning, and naval and air intelligence collection capabilities.
Taiwan and Maritime Domain Awareness in the Western Pacific: Project 2049 report
The Project 2049 Institute in their recent report “Taiwan and Maritime Domain Awareness in the Western Pacific have analyzed the Taiwan’s maritime domain awareness capability.
Taiwan has a large number of land, air, and sea-based radars, located in mainland and offshore islands that provide surveillance of maritime targets, monitoring major Chinese ports across the Taiwan Strait, and early warning of hostile Chinese naval activity, including the preparation for amphibious attacks, blockades or missile strikes.
Taiwan’s early-warning and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft fleets provide long-range maritime awareness and intelligence information. It has a large number of “technical intelligence” (or SIGINT) collection capabilities in the Taiwan Strait and the South China that allow it to (1) track Chinese ships as they enter and exit port; (2) monitor PLAN activities at sea; and (3) obtain PLAN mission orders in advance. Taiwan’s HUMINT capabilities in China are the most effective in the world, its human agents that have penetrated the Chinese party, military and security apparatus. The ROC military’s C3I system is also considered as being “world-class” providing near-real time common operational picture.
The 2049 report emphasizes the importance of Taiwan’s strategic location in the heart of East Asia and the Western Pacific for collecting information and monitoring regional events, No country in the world is better positioned to influence the course of political and security affairs in the Asia-Pacific region than Taiwan.”. The U.S. and Taiwan should continue to work toward the ability to better share a common operational picture that would allow them to seamlessly work together as coalition partners during a crisis or conflict, the 2049 report recommends.
China and Russia have signed a US $3 billion contract for Russian sale of 400-kilometer-range S-400 Triumf road-mobile SAM systems to China. “The China has added another asymmetric capability, together with anti-ship ballistic missiles, which will boost Chinese potential in dealing with the local conflicts in East Asia,” says Vasiliy Kashin, a China military specialist at Moscow’s Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. S-400 will give China more confidence in controlling airspace over Taiwan, and will serve as a critical factor in defeating Taiwan’s air defense capabilities during a war, said York Chen, a former senior adviser of Taiwan’s National Security Council.
Smaller defense budgets and an overwhelming Chinese conventional force have moved Taiwan toward asymmetrical systems and an anti-access, area denial capability all its own, says Kyle Mizokami. Rather than matching China ship for ship and plane for plane, Taiwan is fielding systems that imperil China’s ability to operate in the Taiwan Strait.
One such example is the Hsun Hai, or “Swift Sea” program of small missile corvettes. The catamarans are capable of 38 knots and designed to have a minimal radar signature. Armed with eight Hsiung Feng II and Hsuing Feng III anti-ship missiles, the corvettes have been dubbed “carrier killers” by the Taiwanese media. The first, Tuo River, was commissioned on March 14 and expected to be operational by mid-2015. Twelve ships are planned.
Submarines stand to be a key pillar of Taiwan’s asymmetrical approach. “After Taiwan has lost air and sea control, it’s the subs that will still be able to attack groups of amphibious landing aircraft,” Wang Jyh-perng, RoCN reserve captain told the Asia Times in 2011. In January, Taiwan’s navy headquarters announced a 15-year upgrade plan for naval forces. Under the plan, a local shipbuilder has been directed to determine the feasibility of locally built submarines by June of this year.
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