Defence of Taiwan

OPSSG

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Part 3 of 3: An unmanaged termite infested wooden framework of a defence plan pretending that it is fit for purpose

5. Kurt Campbell, the White House Indo-Pacific co-ordinator, and Laura Rosenberger, the top National Security Council China official, held a meeting on Taiwan with UK representatives in early Mar 2022, according to people familiar with the situation."The person added that the Biden administration was providing some allies with intelligence on Taiwan that was previously classified as “NOFORN” — a designation that bars information sharing with any foreign officials.

6. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has announced a years-long delay for the delivery of U.S. howitzers, citing limited American production capacity, in a blow to the island democracy’s military upgrades. The earliest delivery date for these SPHs had to be postponed to after 2026. Beyond the lack of hardware issue, Taiwan has a mindset issue.
(a) Dr. Col. (retired) Shen Ming-Shih explains Taiwan’s views on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the potential lessons Taiwan may learn. In the pod cast, Dr. Shen explores what Taiwan’s defense community has learned and the inspiration Taiwan’s people have drawn from Ukraine. He says that unity among Taiwan’s people and political parties will be a critical factor in a conflict scenario — if you notice, he speaks the truth and it’s the lack of unity that is even more pressing than lack of weapons — keeping in mind that Taiwan's Legislative Yuan is notorious for brawling.​
(b) Taiwan should study the Battle of Shusha and the 2nd Karabakh War – key lessons for military strategists, on why the defenders lost the war. The special operations forces that scaled the cliffs to the city, did very well and will serve as a text book for the PLA. While Dr. Shen knows a lot and we can learn from him, I caution that his mindset to modern war in an urban area is dated.​

IIRC, the Kangdings were meant to be upgraded significantly, with Arabel radar among other things along with Aster 15. That was way before the indigenous solutions were ready. No one really know why it never took off. Maybe politics.

Even the planned upgrade of the Kangdings are limited. NCIST had built an AESA radar similar to the SMART-S, but I haven't seen it being mentioned in the current MLU programe.
7. I suspect you are correct to point out that the usual dysfunctional intra and inter party factional politics have held up needed modernisation of these 6 toothless Taiwanese frigates, in the last 25 years.
(a) As you know, there is polarisation of political views in Taiwan, with DPP supporters calling KMT politicians traitors, when they are preaching caution. I am not sure if this approach of slandering the opposition party, is helpful in communicating resolve to China.​
(b) IMO, Taiwan’s most momentous decisions still lie ahead, as the planet warms, China’s power grows, US leadership fades, and the population of China and Taiwan ages. It is unknown whether Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英) successor will convince the Taiwanese and the world that Taiwan is still capable of great things in a turbulent and uncertain future. While Taiwan contemplates its future, the PLA(N), as the world’s largest navy, gets a vote on outcomes.​

8. Ivan Kanapathy, former NSC Deputy Senior Director for Asia and US military attaché in Taipei also said: “The Ukraine situation is an opportunity to motivate and mobilize a population and legislature that have historically underestimated the risk and underinvested in Taiwan’s own security.” Any U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan would likely stall much-needed defence reforms in Taiwan, while having no real impact on Beijing’s invasion calculus.

9. There is a false narrative that Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) success is because of NATO training. While the UAF aspired to have a professional NCO corps it was very nascent. Nor was the exact role of these personnel consistent across formations given a lack of institutional culture. NATO training helped but not as much as it appears to be. UAF commanders kept rollerdexes of old comrades with specialist skills in areas like signals and logistics and when their unit was rotated into the JFO - for example - would call them up and issue short term contracts. The Ukrainian model has proven successful, but resembles Finland's approach more than the US. Americans should be cautious about telling Taiwanese about 'best practice' of Ukraine, especially if they don’t understand how rotten things are in the Taiwan reserve system.
 
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OPSSG

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Taiwan, the boy who cried wolf

1. The U.S. State Department in late 2021 cleared Taiwan to acquire 40 Paladins as well as associated support vehicles and equipment, in a sale potentially worth up to US$750 million. Taiwan Defense Ministry officials said the United States recently informed them that artillery systems will not be delivered until 2026 at the earliest, due to production problems.

2. What a shock! Let me put on my best fake horror face for the fact that Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense is wrong?

3. BAE Systems, which manufactures the M109A6 Paladin, told Defense News it has the capacity to build the systems for Taiwan. Turns out those citing Taiwanese sources are wrong to have trusted the bare statement of Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense.
Q: Taiwan's defense ministry said on Monday it's considering alternative weapons options after the U.S. informed it that the delivery of an artillery system, one of these self-propelled howitzers, would be delayed because of a crowded production line. Is Taiwan not getting its weapon systems because the howitzers are going to Ukraine? Or is there a problem with supply chain issues related to Ukraine?​

MR. KIRBY: In terms of the howitzers going to Ukraine, I mean, that is moving and moving quite well. As a matter of fact, a significant majority of the 90 that we have already committed are actually in Ukraine. And so, that continues to flow quite nicely. As for the Taiwan situation, I would refer you to the State Department. That's really more their bailiwick than it is the U.S. Department of Defense. Remember, what we're doing for Ukraine, Jen, is largely, almost wholly presidential drawdown authority.​
So, it's authorization from the President to pull from our own stocks. That is a different method of providing military articles than what is being provided through to Taiwan. And that's all being done through the State Department.​

4. As Pentagon’s press secretary John Kirby pointed out that security aid is coming from U.S. military stockpiles. That is a different method of providing military articles than what is being provided through to Taiwan, and that’s all being done through the State Department.

5. In over 20 years of war in Afghanistan, combat was deadly only at the ground level; ISAF aircraft largely operated with impunity outside the range of limited adversary air defenses. Aviation losses were in low-altitude operations and almost exclusively helicopters. The American cannot assume the ability to gain air superiority for any war in Taiwan, should they decide to intervene — which would make any resupply effort (by sea or via an air bridge), very risky. Russian casualties at the Siverskyi Donets River and in other battles show that these are wars where company, battalion, and even larger formations can be annihilated in a single battle, resulting in large numbers of KIA and WIA — in a war over Taiwan, both the Taiwanese and Chinese can be expected to have brigade sized elements destroyed in a single battle.
 
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Musashi_kenshin

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Failure to provide sources (no response to warning is necessary)
What a shock! Let me put on my best fake horror face for the fact that Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense is wrong?
I'll observe that BAE didn't explicitly say they would deliver units next year. They only said they were ready to produce Paladins "once a contract has been finalized by the United States Government. Our production capacity can support the needs of the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense".

If the US government delays finalising the contract then they won't start production. Equally the "needs" of the MND are subjective. Does Taiwan really need Paladins next year?

It's perfectly possible that they really will be delivering units from next year, and I'm willing to believe the US that deliveries haven't been delayed. However, I'm not going to deploy my shocked-pikachu face if it turns out that "something came up" and deliveries will be pushed back.

(Comment edited as I don't have a bank of sources from a decade ago, so won't argue the point.)
 
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Musashi_kenshin

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Biden’s comments in Tokyo were unscripted and came in answer to a question.

'Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?' he was asked. 'Yes,' he replied. 'You are?' the reporter said. 'That’s the commitment we made,' Biden said. Except it isn’t: this is a new commitment. Biden has ad-libbed support for Taiwan before only for the White House to row back (it attempted to do so this time as well, saying the policy has not changed.) But with a sitting president having twice promised to defend Taiwan, it seems a new de-facto policy is emerging. The Obama-era neutrality may be another casualty of the Ukraine war.
In my view, any benefit of strategic ambiguity has passed. China's military is strong enough that Beijing thinks it possible (even if not probable) that it will be able to bully the US to stay out of a Taiwan war. In that scenario the US umming-and-ahhhing over whether it would intervene is a weakness, not a strength.

Putting its cards on the table makes it less likely the CCP will think America won't help Taipei. It also probably decreases the chances of action short of an invasion like an attempted blockade, as China will understand it's likely the US won't stand by.
 
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STURM

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Excellent article. Discusses the geopolitics, various scenarios, the grey zone/hybrid element; Taiwan's national service programme, etc.


''While Taiwan maintains a draft, the service period was cut from a year to just four months in 2013, a period too short for useful training to occur, according to conscripts and former officers. Throughout four months of training, for instance, a navy conscript surnamed Lin spent a total of forty minutes on warships and fired sixteen rounds from a rifle on one occasion and only after its magazine was loaded for him.''

The author mentions that 'the U.S military gleaned invaluable warfighting experience during the nearly two-decades-long Global War on Terror'. This is certainly true but I have to question how much of the experienced gained in Iraq and Afghanistan is actually applicable or relevant in the event of a war with China. For several decades the U.S. has not had to wage war against a peer or near peer opponent. Also, most articles on Taiwan or China make mention of how capable the PLA is; the level of its modernisation and how it has spent time analysing past conflicts but this always comes with the caveat that the U.S. military is better trained; still has a technological edge, etc. I have no doubt that all these are true but what I question is the assumption many have that the U.S. military's superiority in training, experience and other areas will be decisive against the PLA. My take is although these factors are vital; that they don't necessarily guarantee a victory over China.

Something that needs to be discussed more is also how far the U.S. is willing to go given that China is a nuclear power and unlike Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya; actually has the potential to raise the stakes and strike U.S. territory.
 

John Fedup

The Bunker Group
Excellent article. Discusses the geopolitics, various scenarios, the grey zone/hybrid element; Taiwan's national service programme, etc.


''While Taiwan maintains a draft, the service period was cut from a year to just four months in 2013, a period too short for useful training to occur, according to conscripts and former officers. Throughout four months of training, for instance, a navy conscript surnamed Lin spent a total of forty minutes on warships and fired sixteen rounds from a rifle on one occasion and only after its magazine was loaded for him.''

The author mentions that 'the U.S military gleaned invaluable warfighting experience during the nearly two-decades-long Global War on Terror'. This is certainly true but I have to question how much of the experienced gained in Iraq and Afghanistan is actually applicable or relevant in the event of a war with China. For several decades the U.S. has not had to wage war against a peer or near peer opponent. Also, most articles on Taiwan or China make mention of how capable the PLA is; the level of its modernisation and how it has spent time analysing past conflicts but this always comes with the caveat that the U.S. military is better trained; still has a technological edge, etc. I have no doubt that all these are true but what I question is the assumption many have that the U.S. military's superiority in training, experience and other areas will be decisive against the PLA. My take is although these factors are vital; that they don't necessarily guarantee a victory over China.

Something that needs to be discussed more is also how far the U.S. is willing to go given that China is a nuclear power and unlike Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya; actually has the potential to raise the stakes and strike U.S. territory.
Another advantage of war experience is that when combined with a well trained NCO pool, the result is effective leadership during combat. Chinese NCOs may be better than Russia’s but likely inferior to the USA. However, this advantage may indeed be less significant against a near peer foe, especially when air superiority isn’t certain. The vast distances across the Pacific aren’t exactly logistic friendly either.
 

STURM

Well-Known Member
Chinese NCOs may be better than Russia’s but likely inferior to the USA.
Well it might not make a difference in the type of war that will be waged over Taiwan. The truth is there's a lot we still don't know about China. We can safely assume that China has a few surprises up its sleeve and that it's not going to make the mistake of playing to American strengths.

I question this widely held assumption that no matter how good the Chinese get; that the U.S. will still win because its military is better trained; has better NCOs; has recent experience of war; has the know how to conduct joint ops, etc. Note that the U.S. has not fought a peer or near peer adversary in decades; it various clashes and wars since the 1980's it fought the likes of Grenada, Panama, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

In the 1990's and early 2000's we often heard that the Chinese were good and getting better but the U.S. still had the edge; a vast gap separated the two and that China would never catch up. Now we hear that the Chinese are good; are narrowing the gap; are a major threat and is something the U.S. worries about but that ultimately U.S. superiority in various areas means it would still win irrespective of what China is capable of or how well it has modernised the PLA. Does people who make these types of assumptions really believe so or are they merely making it because it provides some comfort?

Note that the same assumptions [prejudice and hubris played a part] was made with the Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans and Chinese in the past.

The vast distances across the Pacific aren’t exactly logistic friendly either.
Indeed. The Americans have bases in Guam and Japan but the Chinese will be operating in their backyard literally.
 
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Musashi_kenshin

Well-Known Member
Something that needs to be discussed more is also how far the U.S. is willing to go given that China is a nuclear power and unlike Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya; actually has the potential to raise the stakes and strike U.S. territory.
It is a question worth asking, but I think it often gets phrased in a "change my mind" manner that the US won't dare risk a nuclear escalation so will at most poke around the edges. How far any government of any country will go is one that cannot be easily assessed and will remain a matter of personal opinion.

For all the urgent scrambling of White House staffers, in my view it's increasingly clear that strategic ambiguity is dead bar a way for the Chinese to save face and pretend the US hasn't made a de-facto defence agreement with Taiwan. This is the second time Biden has said the US will defend Taiwan. You don't make that sort of comment against the advice of your staff if you don't mean it.

In that case, the US' position is more how far it would go to protect the Baltics from Russia, or Japan from China. Because when you say "I'm going to protect X from Y", no one with real power cares about legal niceities. When Obama did little other than wag his finger at Putin for annexing Crimea and invading Eastern Ukraine, many countries around the world sat up and took note. US credibility was damaged for years, and it's only now being rebuilt.

If a Republican wins in 2024, it's almost certain they'd take a similar line. So what's the chance of a Kissinger disciple winning the Democrat nomination in 2024, beating the Republican nominee and resetting the official position? Probably less than 20%.

Also given that Japan is rapidly changing its defence policy and posture to be able to intervene over Taiwan itself (albeit with needing the US to take the lead), that significantly changes things for the White House.

In short, do I think the US would intervene to shoot down Chinese fighters or sink Chinese ships if the PLA attacked Taiwan tomorrow, yes. How long would it be part of the war, I cannot say and no one else can either, because it won't be possible to predict how the conflict would unfold.

I question this widely held assumption that no matter how good the Chinese get; that the U.S. will still win
In some respects that's a red herring. Deciding whether or not to get involved in a conflict isn't always whether you will win, but what the cost of not intervening will be.

If the US doesn't intervene over Taiwan or takes half-hearted action, it will be returning to the Obama years and "oh well you can cross that red line, but don't cross that red line - or else I'll have to draw another red line behind it". The following lack of confidence in US resolve could make Japan go nuclear - then what?
 

STURM

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In some respects that's a red herring. Deciding whether or not to get involved in a conflict isn't always whether you will win, but what the cost of not intervening will be.
Deciding the cost of not intervening is political. One can also ask; if we intervene and things don't go our way; how far are we going to push it? If the Chinese are willing to lose a few cities; are we willing to do the same? Which comes first; Taiwan and our allies or America?

From a purely military perspective anything can happen; I will not take for granted that victory over China is guaranteed; just like how I will not take for granted that years of investment in the PLA will result in China gaining its objectives.

It's the assumptions I question; the same assumptions [driven by prejudice and hubris] that doubted the ability and will of the Japanese, Vietnamese, Koreans and Chinese to fight.

The PLA knows fully well that invading Taiwn and dealing with the U.S. will not be easy; just like how the American military knows that the PLA will not be a piece of cake; it won't be an Iraq or Panama. It's the outsiders/observers/fan boys on both sides who assume things.

Ultimately it also boils down to the fact that China is a nuclear power and has the ability to obliterate American cities. This fact will determine just how far America will be willing to go in the event of war because China will be unlike any other country whom America has been at war with; it has nukes and the means deliver them. If things go ratshit for China and half the PLAN is sunk; I don't see it backing off and being in a rush to sign a peace treaty in Washington.
 
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Musashi_kenshin

Well-Known Member
It's the assumptions I question
No assumptions should be made on subjective issues, but best guesses are required to make a decision either way on something.

Ultimately it also boils down to the fact that China is a nuclear power and has the ability to obliterate American cities. This fact will determine just how far America will be willing to go in the event of war because China will be unlike any other country whom America has been at war with; it has nukes and the means deliver them. If things go ratshit for China and half the PLAN is sunk; I don't see it backing off and being in a rush to sign a peace treaty in Washington.
It's the same issue for the US over a conflict involving China and Japan. Or Russia and NATO. Neither China's nor Russia's nuclear weapons go away just because the US has formal defence treaties.

If China lashes out with nuclear weapons because it suffers a terrible conventional defeat over Taiwan, it will do the same as the result of a conventional defeat over Japan. Taiwan has an emotional factor on the basis of unification, but Japan is the old enemy who the CCP could not possibly get away with losing to.
 
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koxinga

Well-Known Member
Well it might not make a difference in the type of war that will be waged over Taiwan. The truth is there's a lot we still don't know about China. We can safely assume that China has a few surprises up its sleeve and that it's not going to make the mistake of playing to American strengths.

I question this widely held assumption that no matter how good the Chinese get; that the U.S. will still win because its military is better trained; has better NCOs; has recent experience of war; has the know how to conduct joint ops, etc. Note that the U.S. has not fought a peer or near peer adversary in decades; it various clashes and wars since the 1980's it fought the likes of Grenada, Panama, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.
A few things to unpack here.

Re quality of NCOs. It is difficult to make a direct comparison between the two forces. But the Chinese had identified this as one of their weakness and in my opinion, they have moved far ahead to address it compared to the Russians. Whether this makes them comparable to the US, we do not have any data point to support either directions. What we see in their exercises today is fairly scripted propoganda, targeted at the domestic audience.


Re near peer adversary, a campaign against Taiwan, IMO would pit professional units of the PLA (PLAMC, PLAAb, 72, 74 GAs) that have been training for this scenario for decades. Because of the expeditionary nature, unless CCP obtains some kind of a beachhead on the island, I don't see PLA calling up second or third line units for meat grinder type ops because the logistics will be a nightmare to start with.

The nature of the campaign would also see significant involvement of naval, air units and 2nd Artillery in the opening phases, unlike Ukraine and PLA would seek to eliminate Taiwan's air, naval and offensive missile capacity to faciliate their landing ops.
 

koxinga

Well-Known Member
Here are some geographical references w.r.t Taiwan.

In terms of size, Ukraine is something like 17 times bigger than Taiwan, and it is approximately the size of Moldova. In terms of distances, you are looking at 650KM to Kadena AB, and nearly 2700KM to Guam.

While the Taiwan Straits is a natural obstacle for China, the geography cuts both ways as it will be extraordinary difficult to resupply. You can't exactly drive a convoy over the border to Taiwan.
 

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koxinga

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Deciding the cost of not intervening is political. One can also ask; if we intervene and things don't go our way; how far are we going to push it? If the Chinese are willing to lose a few cities; are we willing to do the same? Which comes first; Taiwan and our allies or America?
If we use Ukraine (a soverign state) as a proxy, the US has refrained to get directly involved beyond military assistance, diplomatic and intelligence support with the reason that the US public has no desire to see US servicemen go up against a nuclear arm state. The amount of support only increased significantly when it was clear that Russia was not able to achieve it's initial objectives and was getting bogged down.

My fear with Taiwan is whether they can last sufficiently long enough to make US assistance effective (political, economic and military mobilisation), or they are too far gone within 2 months of the start.


Ultimately it also boils down to the fact that China is a nuclear power and has the ability to obliterate American cities. This fact will determine just how far America will be willing to go in the event of war because China will be unlike any other country whom America has been at war with; it has nukes and the means deliver them. If things go ratshit for China and half the PLAN is sunk; I don't see it backing off and being in a rush to sign a peace treaty in Washington.
I would assume they are rational actors unless proven otherwise. It is a complex debate where everyone will have an opinon but no one will really know for sure.
 

ngatimozart

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Verified Defense Pro
If we use Ukraine (a soverign state) as a proxy, the US has refrained to get directly involved beyond military assistance, diplomatic and intelligence support with the reason that the US public has no desire to see US servicemen go up against a nuclear arm state. The amount of support only increased significantly when it was clear that Russia was not able to achieve it's initial objectives and was getting bogged down.
The comparisons in a nuke context are somewhat different. Russia has the largest nuke arsenal on the planet (6,500 warheads) and it is quite capable of a second strike and possibly a third. Whereas the PRC arsenal is 320 warheads; figures as of 2020 Nuclear weapon modernization continues but the outlook for arms control is bleak: New SIPRI Yearbook out now | SIPRI. Between 2019 and 2020 the PRC added 30 warheads and if we assume that same rate of production then another 60 have been added in the intervening years, taking their estimated warhead total to 380. They don't have a large SSBN with only 6 SSBN - 4 Type 94 and 2 Type 94A A Glimpse of Chinese Ballistic Missile Submarines | Center for Strategic and International Studies (csis.org). At present their SSBN missiles can't reach the continental US from waters adjacent to the PRC. They Type 94 is also noisy, about as noisy as the early model Soviet Delta III and easily detectable, so is basically penned up in PLAN controlled waters. USN, ROK, JSDF and allied ASW assets would be able to detect it easily enough and target it quickly. Another interesting point is that the subs don't sail in peacetime with nuclear warheads to their missiles. CCP hierarchy trust issues apparently.

The PRC isn't able to launch a nuclear first strike against either the US or Russia capable of preventing an annihilating second strike against the PRC. It won't be able to do so until basically, it achieves parity with both countries, and TBH neither country will be very keen on that idea, no matter how friendly the PRC and Russia become.
My fear with Taiwan is whether they can last sufficiently long enough to make US assistance effective (political, economic and military mobilisation), or they are too far gone within 2 months of the start.

I would assume they are rational actors unless proven otherwise. It is a complex debate where everyone will have an opinon but no one will really know for sure.
You always assume everyone is rational until proven otherwise. It is always fatal to underestimate your enemy.
 
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STURM

Well-Known Member
What we see in their exercises today is fairly scripted propoganda, targeted at the domestic audience.
And also for an international audience I would guess.

The nature of the campaign would also see significant involvement of naval, air units and 2nd Artillery in the opening phases
The nature of the campaign would also be unlike anything the U.S. has faced in recent history; in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other places. Whilst the PLA has been able to devote its resources and attention towards a fight with the U.S. the fact remains that for a considerable period the U.S. was focused elsewhere and even now with the so called ''pivot'' it still has to keep and eye on Europe and the Middle East in addition to the Asia Pacific.

You always assume everyone is rational until proven otherwise. It is always fatal to underestimate your enemy.
Indeed and it was a major shock when the Chinese entered the war in Korea. All indications pointed to the fact that they wouldn't.

What we should never underestimate is the willingness of China to go to war and all the risks it entails; over Taiwan. We should and must also never assume that U.S and allied superiority in various key areas will always carry the day.
 
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