Taiwan think tank on China’s territorial ambitions and decisive military superiority by 2020

1st and 2nd island chainsFirst and Second Island Chains (click map to enlarge)

Wendell Minnick reports for DefenseNews, March 4, 2014, that New Frontier Foundation, the think tank of Taiwan’s opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), released “a remarkable report on China’s military ambitions against Taiwan.”

The report, edited by York Chen, convener of the Foundation’s Defense Policy Advisory Committee, is entitled “China’s Military Threats Against Taiwan in 2025.” It is the 5th in a series of Defense Policy Blue Papers produced by the DPP think tank on defense issues, but the first to produce substantive research on the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) modernization efforts and Chinese military programs aimed at waging a successful war to take the island. The report had input from former Taiwan military officers, US analysts, and reports issued by the Ministry of National Defense (MINDEF).

What the report says:

  • Taiwan must raise its defense budget “to the level of 3% of GDP” and build an effective “national defense with Taiwanese characteristics.” The latter means relying more on domestic defense industry sources for military arms and equipment.
  • The paper outlines three priorities: cyber defense, indigenous submarine production and improving air defense capabilities.
  • On cyber defense, it is recommended that the status of MINDEF’s Information and Electronic Warfare Command be raised in the organization chart; attract more information warfare personnel;  develop asymmetrical cyber operational concepts and equipment; and strengthen its cyber “front lines.”
  • On the indigenous submarine issue, the report recommends an immediate two-stage building program that allows for “conserving the integrity of the Navy’s current submarine force” but also “activating a long-term development cycle of ship design and research and development, critical equipment acquisition, testing and operation, and upgrade.” The best way to proceed is to reverse-engineer the two Dutch-built Zwaardvis-class submarines sold to Taiwan in the 1980s. The US offered to sell Taiwan eight diesel-powered attack submarines in 2001, but the US has been unable to develop the infrastructure needed to manufacturer diesel-submarines. The report says that since “Submarines are the major platforms to deny the PLA’s invasion fleet from crossing the Strait, indigenous production has become the only choice for Taiwan to acquire submarines.” Taiwan has struggled with efforts to produce submarines over the past decade, including the Hidden Dragon Program and the Indigenous Defense Submarine Program, which the Taiwan Navy failed to support.
  • The report recommends that Taiwan procure unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), upgrade fighter aircrafts, refine precision strike munitions, and develop next-generation fighters, including the procurement of “vertical and/or short take-off and landing” (V/STOL) fighters. This is because China’s air warfare capabilities continue to expand with the production of more advanced fourth-generation fighters, the roll-out of two types of fifth-generation stealthy fighters, the replacement of aging ballistic missiles with more precise missiles, and the fielding of more advanced land-attack cruise missiles. In the past, Taiwan has expressed interest in buying refurbished AV-8 Harrier V/STOL jump-jets and has received US government briefings on the F-35B short-takeoff vertical-landing (STOVL) fighter. On UCAV technologies, Taiwan’s military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology has produced a variety of UAVs, including designs for a stealthy UCAV, but has long suffered budgeting problems and a lack of support from the Taiwan military, which has pushed for the procurement of US-made UAVs.
  • Despite the report’s recommendations, the overall conclusions of the report are dire. The PLA attained the operational capability to respond to a Taiwan contingency in 2007, surpassed Taiwan’s forces in quantity and quality in 2010, and continues working to secure decisive capabilities for a large-scale operation against Taiwan by 2020. “The expansive range of the PLA’s air defense missiles has already embraced Taiwan within a de facto air defense identification zone, and when the 5th generation fighters enter into service by 2020, the PRC [China] will achieve clear airpower superiority over Taiwan,” said the report.
  • Beyond Beijing’s benign claims of reunifying Taiwan with the motherland, the report gives a sobering picture of the real reason China needs the island. “Taiwan is absolutely needed for China to establish credible long-range power projection capabilities, to actually surpass the geographical restrictions of the first island chain, and to become an equal power with the U.S. in the Pacific,” the report said. Further, it is in China’s strategic interest to turn the island into a military outpost. “The island is a strategic jumping point for offensive” military operations in the Pacific.
  • The clock is ticking. Within the next several years the PLA will introduce the S-400 surface-to-air missile system with a 400-kilometer range giving China absolute air defense coverage of the island. The S-400 radar “claims to be able to effectively detect the enemy’s stealth fighters.”
  • Though it appears doomed, the paper advocates the continued upgrade program for its fleet of 146 F-16A/B fighter aircraft, “but even if it proceeds smoothly, the earliest possible completion date will not be until the mid-2020s.” Taiwan is preparing to retire its remaining F-5 fighters and the 56 operational Mirage 2000 fighters within the next five-to-10 years. This will leave the Air Force with only 146 F-16s and 128 Indigenous Defense Fighters, which are both undergoing upgrades. The US has refused to sell Taiwan F-16C/D Block 52 fighters due to pressure from China. US officials have also stated there are fears the F-16C/Ds might fall into Chinese hands as relations between Taiwan and China continue to progress.

H/t AnchorageKnight


7 responses to “Taiwan think tank on China’s territorial ambitions and decisive military superiority by 2020

  1. anchorageknight

    The part about China wanting Taiwan as a base for power projection purposes is correct. Academic papers by Chinese senior officers indicate that the long term goal is to use the port/airfield complex in Southern Taiwan as a fleet base – one difficult to block from access to the deep water of the Philippine Sea. There are two major and two medium sized ports, major shipyards and several large and small airfields. Chinese planning extends as far as 2050, and projects being the dominant Pacific Naval power by that time. They aim to be able to contest waters as distant as Kodiak Alaska and Honolulu Hawaii.


  2. A. James Gregor, Ph.D. & Professor

    As many defense analysts have argued for decades, (1) the island of Taiwan is critical for a credible defense against aggression in the West Pacific (a defense of Japan and of the Philippines–and Indonesia as well); and (2) Taiwan, alone, cannot be expected to protect its territorial integrity. Any credible defense of Taiwan necessitates full U.S. participation, together with (at least) ancillary assistance (basing facilities, for example) from Japan (and perhaps the Philippines). Such a coalition would function as a deterrent with respect to Beijing’s territorial aspirations. With Russia, at the very best an uneasy partner (because of its own territorial disputes with the PRC), any aggression by China in the East China sea, the Taiwan strait, and the Philippine sea might well prove to be very hazardous–particularly because India has shown uneasiness with Beijing’s “assertiveness”–and might very well join such an anti-PRC consortium.. Since Washington, under the present administration, has no serious security policy for the West Pacific or contingent areas, the next decade will prove very dangerous for everyone concerned. .


    • The only–ONLY–way America ought to actually commit forces to Taiwan’s defense is if Taiwan shows itself to be serious about defending itself. What would help is a bigger commitment to its defense budget. Even more important, however, if/when the time comes to actually shoot back at invading Chinese forces, is for Taiwan to fight hard for it. As far as I’m concerned, the first hint that Taiwan’s military is laying off or surrendering or whatever is the instant that we take our ball and go home. Furthermore, as for what aid we do provide, it should include essentially zero ground troops. The war should be Taiwan’s to win or lose, with America only chipping in some air and sea power to the extent that appears necessary to put Taiwan over the top.


  3. Pingback: China Speakers Bureau Japan documents intrusion by Chinese military aircraft – Wendell Minnick

  4. Pingback: Chinese could be ready to invade in 2020: MND Taiwan « Engineering Evil

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