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Taiwan’s Military Renaissance: Advanced Capabilities for a Double-Level Deterrence

Introduction:

In the ever-evolving landscape of East Asian geopolitics, Taiwan finds itself in a delicate position, grappling with increased military pressure and territorial claims from China. In the face of increasing geopolitical tensions and security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan has been diligently advancing its military capabilities with a focus on precision weaponry, and enhanced surveillance, to ensure a robust defense posture against potential threats, particularly from its neighbor, China.

Recent developments underscore the island nation’s commitment to bolstering its defense capabilities, with a focus on precision weaponry, enhanced surveillance, and a robust “double-level deterrence” strategy. In this article, we delve into Taiwan’s military advancements, examining its efforts to fortify its position against regional threats.

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.

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.

The Precarious Position:

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.

Taiwan’s precarious position stems from Beijing’s territorial claims, with China threatening annexation by force if necessary. The US intelligence community and a number of senior US military leaders have warned publicly that Xi has directed his commanders to be ready by 2027 to conduct a successful invasion of Taiwan. This is not to suggest that Xi has made a decision to invade by 2027. But — at a minimum — he appears intent on having an option to invade by then.

Despite Taiwan’s autonomous government, democratic elections, and standing army, global recognition remains elusive. President Xi Jinping’s regime has escalated military and economic pressure on Taiwan, aiming to counter perceived moves toward independence.

Amidst heightened tensions, the Taiwanese military faces multifaceted challenges. China’s military buildup, including hypersonic DF-17 missiles near Taiwan, poses a direct threat. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) demonstrates capabilities for a potential blockade, multidimensional operations, and cyberattacks.

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.

Concurrently, China employs economic coercion to pressure Pacific island nations, including those recognizing Taiwan, to withdraw support.

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.

Recent aggressive maneuvers by the Chinese military, including live-fire drills and increased flights over the Taiwan Strait, underscore the gravity of the situation. China has recently increased its military activities around Taiwan, including live-fire drills and sending planes into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). These actions are seen as a way of pressuring Taiwan and deterring it from declaring independence.

On August 4, 2023, China sent 29 planes into Taiwan’s ADIZ, the largest number of planes ever sent in a single day. The planes included fighter jets, bombers, and early warning aircraft. On August 5, 2023, China conducted live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates Taiwan from mainland China. The drills involved artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and fighter jets. The Chinese military has been conducting regular drills near Taiwan for several years, but the recent increase in activity has raised concerns about the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

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 United States has responded to the Chinese threats by increasing its military presence in the region. In August 2023, the U.S. Navy sent two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea, a region that China claims as its own.

Arms Sales and Increasing U.S. Presence:

On August 4, 2023, the United States announced a $619 million arms sale to Taiwan. The sale includes 60 AGM-88B High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), 100 AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II air-to-air missiles, and 200 M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) rocket pods. The sale also includes spare parts and training for the Taiwanese military.

Earlier in a significant move, the U.S. State Department approved a $1.8 billion arms sale to Taiwan in October 2020, including the provision of precision air-to-surface cruise missiles, emphasizing Washington’s commitment to Taiwan’s defense.

The United States has been selling arms to Taiwan since 1979, but the recent sale is one of the largest in recent years. The sale comes at a time when China is increasing its military pressure on Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to use force to bring it under its control.

Double-Level Deterrence: A Holistic Defense Strategy

The concept of “double-level deterrence” adopted by Taiwan integrates various advanced military capabilities to create a comprehensive defense strategy. By combining advanced fighter aircraft, modern submarines, precision-strike capabilities, and robust missile defense, Taiwan aims to dissuade any potential adversary from hostile actions. This approach not only safeguards Taiwan’s sovereignty but also contributes to regional stability by maintaining a credible deterrent against aggression.

President Tsai Ing-wen, assuming office in May 2016, has accelerated Taiwan’s military modernization efforts, focusing on aerospace, submarines, and cybersecurity. Emphasizing the link between a robust defense industry and overall industrial development, President Tsai envisions a more secure Taiwan. Projected defense spending by 2025 reflects a 20% increase, with priorities including new missiles, drones, electronic warfare systems, fighter aircraft, and ballistic missile defenses.

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.

 

Enhancing Defensive Capabilities:

Taiwan’s response involves a holistic approach to defense, incorporating advanced technologies and strategic positioning. The deployment of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) systems on the island’s east coast exemplifies efforts to intercept incoming ballistic and cruise missiles. Upgrades to electronic warfare systems on destroyers and frigates, coupled with the integration of Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) aircraft and stealth fighters, form a critical part of Taiwan’s “double-level deterrence.”

One of the key areas of focus for Taiwan’s military modernization has been on developing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. A2/AD capabilities are designed to prevent or hinder an enemy’s ability to operate in a particular area. Taiwan’s A2/AD capabilities include land-based missiles, mobile air defense systems, and anti-ship missiles.

Taiwan has recognized the imperative need to upgrade its defense capabilities, particularly the AN/SLQ-32 system on four Kidd-class destroyers, allocating over NT$1.99 billion for this enhancement. The move is driven by the outdated nature of the current system, necessitating improvements to counter the escalating threat posed by sophisticated radar-guided anti-ship missile systems. Additionally, Taiwan aims to bolster its surface-to-air defense capabilities by procuring 16 Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) Block IIIA missiles, reinforcing its readiness against airborne threats.

In response to China’s military budget increase, Taiwan, as outlined in its 2017 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), plans to acquire stealth fighters and vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft to strengthen its defense forces. Emphasizing a “double-level deterrence” strategy, the acquisition of these advanced weaponry aims to secure Taiwan against potential threats. The QDR also underscores the significance of naval capabilities and missile defense systems, with Taiwan’s acquisition of decommissioned frigates from the U.S. contributing to its maritime strength. Moreover, recent military exercises, such as the use of the main highway as an emergency airstrip, highlight Taiwan’s commitment to enhancing its combat readiness and deterrence capabilities in the face of a continued military threat from China.

Stealth Fighters: Securing Air Superiority One of Taiwan’s notable military advancements is the acquisition of advanced stealth fighters, a key element in modern air warfare. The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) has been actively upgrading its fleet, with the introduction of the F-16V Viper and plans to procure F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters. These cutting-edge aircraft provide Taiwan with enhanced situational awareness, electronic warfare capabilities, and the ability to operate in contested environments. The integration of stealth technology significantly strengthens Taiwan’s air defense, ensuring air superiority and deterrence against potential adversaries.

Submarine Modernization: Underwater Vigilance Taiwan recognizes the strategic importance of maritime capabilities, especially in the waters surrounding the island. In response to regional developments, Taiwan has initiated ambitious submarine modernization projects. The island nation is collaborating with international partners to develop indigenous submarine designs and enhance its underwater capabilities. Submarines equipped with advanced sensor systems and stealth technologies bolster Taiwan’s ability to monitor and secure its maritime boundaries, creating a formidable defense against potential naval threats.

Air-to-Surface Cruise Missiles: Precision Strikes for Strategic Defense

Taiwan is also developing new offensive capabilities, such as its indigenous Hsiung Feng III supersonic cruise missile and its Sky Bow III long-range air defense system. These capabilities would allow Taiwan to strike Chinese targets on the mainland and defend itself against Chinese air and missile attacks. Taiwan’s focus on precision-strike capabilities is evident in its development and deployment of advanced air-to-surface cruise missiles. These missiles provide the Taiwanese military with the ability to conduct targeted and precise strikes on potential threats, enhancing its strategic defense capabilities. With increased range and accuracy, these missiles act as a powerful deterrent, ensuring that any hostile actions against Taiwan would come at a significant cost.

Missile Defense: Safeguarding the Skies A critical component of Taiwan’s “double-level deterrence” strategy is its investment in missile defense systems. With an increasing threat of ballistic missiles from across the Taiwan Strait, the island has deployed advanced missile defense systems, such as the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) system and the domestically developed Tien Kung III system. These systems provide a multi-layered defense against incoming missiles, ensuring the protection of key assets and population centers. Taiwan’s missile defense capabilities significantly raise the costs for any potential aggressor contemplating military action.

Recent advancements and acquisitions

Taiwan has undertaken significant military investments to bolster its defense capabilities in response to the escalating threat from China. Notable advancements include the procurement of 66 F-16V Block 70/72 fighter jets from the United States, representing the latest and most advanced version of the F-16 aircraft. Expected to be delivered between 2023 and 2026, these jets enhance Taiwan’s air superiority.

Furthermore, Taiwan has developed the Sky Bow III long-range air defense system, with a capability to intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at ranges of up to 200 kilometers. The indigenous Hsiung Feng III supersonic cruise missile, boasting a range exceeding 1,000 kilometers, provides Taiwan with a potent offensive capability. Additionally, the Cloud Leopard armored vehicle, a versatile platform for troop transport, reconnaissance, and combat, and the acquisition of Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the United States further strengthen Taiwan’s military preparedness.

On August 23, 2023, the U.S. State Department approved a potential $500 million sale to Taiwan of infrared search and track systems for F-16 fighter jets, as well as other equipment. The F-16 is a multirole fighter jet that is capable of carrying out air-to-air, air-to-ground, and electronic warfare missions. It is one of the most widely used fighter jets in the world, with over 4,500 aircraft in service in more than 25 countries. The infrared search and track system (IRST) is a sensor that uses infrared radiation to detect and track targets. It is particularly useful in low-light and night conditions. The proposed sale of the equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region, the agency said in a statement.

The United States has said that the arms sale is necessary to help Taiwan defend itself against the Chinese threat. The U.S. has also said that the sale is consistent with its “One China” policy, which recognizes China’s claim to Taiwan but also allows for unofficial relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.

China has condemned the arms sale, saying that it is a violation of the “One China” policy and a threat to regional peace and stability. China has also threatened to retaliate against the U.S. for the sale.

These strategic acquisitions, coupled with ongoing modernization efforts and training programs, underscore Taiwan’s commitment to fortifying its defense capabilities and serve as a resolute message against potential intimidation from China.

Taiwan and Maritime Domain Awareness in the Western Pacific: Project 2049 report

The Project 2049 Institute’s report on Taiwan’s maritime domain awareness underscores the island’s comprehensive capabilities in surveilling and monitoring the Western Pacific. 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.

The report highlights Taiwan’s sophisticated early-warning and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft fleets, equipped to offer long-range maritime awareness and intelligence information. Additionally, the island nation possesses significant technical intelligence (SIGINT) collection capabilities in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, allowing it to track Chinese ships, monitor People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) activities, and obtain mission orders in advance. The report emphasizes Taiwan’s pivotal role in influencing political and security affairs in the Asia-Pacific region, urging continued collaboration between the U.S. and Taiwan to seamlessly share a common operational picture during crises or conflicts.

Facing challenges from an overwhelming Chinese conventional force, Taiwan strategically adopts an asymmetrical approach and an anti-access, area denial capability. In this context, Taiwan’s deployment of small missile corvettes under the “Hsun Hai” program, designed for minimal radar signature and armed with anti-ship missiles, exemplifies its commitment to imperiling China’s operational abilities in the Taiwan Strait. 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.

Furthermore, submarines play a central role in Taiwan’s asymmetrical strategy, acting as a key pillar in the event of losing air and sea control. A 15-year naval upgrade plan, including the exploration of locally built submarines, signifies Taiwan’s determination to enhance its maritime capabilities and ensure a robust defense against potential threats in the region.

RAND War games

In response to heightened tensions regarding China’s potential invasion of Taiwan, RAND and the Special Competitive Studies Project conducted a series of wargames involving technologists from Silicon Valley, early-stage tech companies, and traditional defense contractors to explore near-term capabilities against a Taiwan scenario. Despite the United States’ inability to confidently deter a Chinese invasion by 2027, the wargames yielded surprising and promising results. Three major themes emerged: first, leveraging existing technologies innovatively to enhance US and allied military capabilities; second, prioritizing information advantage solutions for quick impact; and third, a sense that US tech companies would collaborate and support the government in a crisis.

The wargame series conducted by RAND and the Special Competitive Studies Project explored 17 operational problems and potential solutions to enhance America’s deterrence against a Taiwan scenario. One major focus is disrupting the adversary’s kill chain, acknowledging China’s sensor and weapon systems’ threat during a potential invasion. Proposed solutions include employing multi-domain drone mimics to confuse China’s battlespace awareness, algorithmic optimization of decoys for effective deception, and the use of “smart” sea mines to create a defensive obstacle.

The second theme emphasizes the importance of “YESFORN” situational awareness, underlining the need for real-time information sharing between US and Taiwanese forces. Solutions include real-time translation to overcome language barriers, an “Uncommon Operating Picture” to share and aggregate information while concealing precise order of battle, and a shared cloud infrastructure for standardized data exchange.

Empowering at the tactical edge, the third theme, highlights the necessity for mobility and protection against detection. Solutions proposed involve fitting multiple networks into a single device for efficient command and control, an Integrated Warfighter Network to counter Chinese electronic warfare, and a Combat Suite of Apps to engage Taiwanese civilians as digital support for military operations.

The analysis concludes with a focus on enhancing lethality through the implementation of these solutions. In a subsequent campaign analysis, it was observed that when these solutions were applied, the US and Taiwanese forces experienced significantly fewer losses, showcasing potential benefits in a Taiwan contingency. The authors recommend serious consideration and further investment in these technological solutions to close deterrence gaps and maintain a favorable regional balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.

Challenges and Future Prospects:

Despite these advancements, the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has shifted toward China. The island nation faces the risk of a potential invasion, with the PLA’s capabilities posing a significant challenge. Taiwan’s efforts to camouflage armored vehicles and conduct live-fire exercises, including using the main highway as an emergency airstrip, highlight the island’s commitment to enhancing survivability in the face of threats.

Strategic Imperatives and International Relations:

The international community, particularly the United States, plays a pivotal role in Taiwan’s defense strategy. Arms sales, military cooperation, and strategic partnerships contribute to Taiwan’s resilience. While China perceives U.S. involvement as a threat, Taiwan views it as a crucial deterrent, reinforcing its commitment to safeguarding its democratic way of life.

Conclusion:

Taiwan’s military advancements, driven by the need for a robust defense against regional threats, showcase the island nation’s determination to ensure its sovereignty.

As it navigates a complex geopolitical landscape, Taiwan’s “double-level deterrence” strategy, encompassing precision weaponry, surveillance capabilities, and strategic partnerships, underscores its commitment to peace, stability, and the safeguarding of its democratic values in the face of formidable challenges. The advancements in stealth fighters, submarines, air-to-surface cruise missiles, and missile defense systems collectively contribute to a formidable deterrent against potential threats from China.

As Taiwan continues to invest in cutting-edge technologies, the island nation reinforces its commitment to peace, stability, and the safeguarding of its democratic way of life in a region marked by geopolitical complexities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References and Resources also include:

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