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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Type Of Battle Would Result From A Chinese Invasion Of Taiwan?

Links: A. China Plans To Invade Taiwan
           B. Taiwan Plans Defensive Strategy
           C. China Prepares.....
           D. As Does Taiwan

As the new year started, I jumped head-first into a series of commentaries on Al-Qaeda.  I've decided to mix things up a bit, just to keep everyone awake.  We haven't paid a visit to
China lately, and the Taiwan issue is always good for discussion.  At one time or another, we've all wondered why the Chicoms haven't invaded Taiwan already.  Beijing seems to be exhibiting a tremendous amount of patience, which does seem to be a strong suit.  Every year, trade between the two Chinas increases, as does tourism.  In fact, more Chinese visit Taiwan than vice-versa.  During the dark years of Mao and the Cultural Revolution, the Chicoms were forced to look across the Strait of Taiwan and imagine the budding capitalist society that was humming away. As China struggled through a bit of an identity crisis under Deng Xiaoping, the Taiwanese economy exploded, the island became weighed down with international companies worth billions, and the Kuomintang (Nationalists) lost an election.  The Kuomintang is the political party of former dictator and "father of Taiwan", Chang Kai-Shek, and for many years, only one party was allowed to contest elections. The Kuomintang carried on as if the war with Mao and the Commies never really ended, and the national goal continued to be the reoccupation of the mainland.  When the people of Taiwan finally insisted on a multi-party system, and almost immediately bounced the Kuomintang from the office of President, the message wasn't so much a repudiation of Chang Kai-Shek as it was a message to the world that Taiwan no longer had a beef with China.  Surprisingly, Beijing responded quickly to the overtures from Taipei, and commercial airline service was started.  Everything was moving ahead swimmingly, until the Chinese started referring to the day when Taiwan would become just another Chinese province, and the Taiwanese responded with a bit of noise about becoming an independent nation.  Since 1949, the United States has vouched for the defense of Taiwan, although recently an administration or two has toyed with the idea of cutting back on our military presence in the South China Sea.  If China attacked Taiwan, the shit would hit the fan in so many directions, I don't believe that the United States military would have a clue how to respond.  You see, Taiwan hasn't been sitting around waiting for the Red Army to come for tea.  The battle for Taiwan would be a military engagement like none that we've seen in our existence.  Here's why:

When it comes to military stuff, I'm a typical guy.  I love reading about tanks and ships and ancient battles, and I am always interested in the state of readiness of the world's armies. China has the world's largest army.  We like to refer to it affectionately as the Red Army, but the Chinese prefer it to be called "The People's Liberation Army".  For many years, China was able to rely on the size of its army to influence conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  In the last three decades or so, China has dedicated itself to reforming its military and bringing it up to specs with the modern age.  In many ways they have been successful.  China is a nuclear power and has atomic weapons.  Importantly, China has made great progress in the development of missile delivery systems.  A substantial amount of Chinese technology has benefitted from espionage, theft from reverse-engineering, and outright bribery.  China has inserted itself into U.S. presidential elections, and managed to convince a former President to "un-ban" certain technologies from being sold to China.  The Chinese continue to steal technology from our Laboratories and our universities, especially the ones with Department of Defense research contracts.  China has also taken advantage of the Moscow yard-sale that took place following the end of the Cold War.  Beijing was able to buy all sorts of Russian military hardware, re-engineer what was useful and throw away the junk.  China even managed to purchase a Russian Aircraft Carrier (for some reason, the Chinese just can't build an aircraft carrier).  As for Taiwan, they were able to use all that capitalism largesse to buy the latest and best military equipment on the planet, and it's all Made in the USA.

As of 2015 (estimates), China has 2,285,000 frontline troops (trained and equipped), and 2,300,000 reserves (also trained and equipped).  China has about 9100 tanks, but they are of various makes and models (and ages), and are also the local product.  From the few times we've seen them in combat, they were less-than impressive.  China also has over 6100 Artillery pieces, and almost 2000 multi-launch rocket systems.  But the troops and hardware make no difference if you can't deliver them to the battlefield.  The Chinese Navy has a healthy number of frigates and destroyers, and a scary number of submarines (69).  But does China have the necessary size and number of transport/landing craft to deposit the Chinese Army on the beaches of Taiwan?  And a beach-landing will require at least some control of the seas.  Sure, you can deliver troops with an airborne resource, but that requires control of the air.

Taiwan's standing army is 290,000 strong, and its reserve element is 1,675,000.  Taiwan has roughly 2000 tanks, with 600 MBTs (Main Battle Tanks) that are either old or of outdated design.  Taiwan has a real tank dilemma, but rumor is that the Taiwanese Army will soon acquire 200 surplus M1A2 Abrams tanks.  Taiwan has useful number of artillery pieces, considering its an island.  Taiwan's Navy is a decent size, and has undertaken an ambitious program to construct its own submarines by the year 2025 (this issue will be resolved by then, guaranteed).  If China were to attempt an invasion of Taiwan, everything would depend on one factor: air superiority.

For China to invade Taiwan, it must first transport its invasion force to within sight of the beaches.  Ideally, the landing craft then take over, transporting the troops, tanks and equipment to the beach head.  This cannot be accomplished without close to total control of the skies.  The same situation confronted General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1944, when he was planning the invasion of Europe.  The allies were able to pound any German air resources into dust before the invasion began, ensuring no trouble from above.  I assume the Chinese would also utilize a great deal of airborne troops, who would parachute in behind the beach defensive positions and attack the enemy from both directions.  Here is the million dollar question: is the Chinese Air Force strong enough to defeat the Taiwanese Air Force?  By the numbers (I'm leaving out transport, training, etc.), China has 1,170 fighters, 885 fixed-wing fighters and 856 attack helicopters.  Taiwan has 286 fighters, 264 fixed-wing fighters, and 68 attack helicopters.  On paper, it certainly doesn't look like a fair fight.  But the Taiwanese are flying the latest version of the F16, and who really knows what the Chinese are relying upon this week.  Earlier in 2014, word got out that China was purchasing twenty-four Russian Sukhoi-35 Flanker fighter jets.  Without doubt, the Chinese will take them apart and build their own version.  Again, the Chinese have problems developing an indigenous capacity to build certain items.  Aircraft Carriers are one example, and Fighter Planes are another.  On occasion, whatever it is that the Chinese have reverse-engineered ends up falling apart anyway, because the original design was a piece of shit!  Trust a Russian avionics design?  Fly Aeroflot (Aero-FLOP)?  Not me!

The Chinese Attack Helicopters are also no match for the Taiwanese.  Much of what we are discussing will rely on the pilots and their training.  Again, Taiwan is heads-and-tails above the Chinese, mainly because of the quality and dedication of the U.S. military.  We continue to conduct joint training exercises with Taiwan, and word is, the Taiwanese pilots are sensational.  Back to our scenario: if China decides to invade Taiwan, sheer numbers alone tilt the probability in China's favor (for the purpose of this conversation, I am eliminating the possibility of U.S. military intervention).  Weather could play a factor, but you would imagine that the Chinese would plan the date of their operation accordingly.  If the Chinese Air Force lays an egg against the Taiwanese fighters over the Taiwan Strait, the transport vessels and landing craft will be sitting ducks for modern jet fighters.  And if the Chinese Air Force is unable to pepper the defensive positions, then Taiwanese armor, anti-tank units and artillery will have a field day with the landing craft and vehicles trying to organize on the beach (assuming they have had time to be transported to the beach front).

A victory for Taiwan in the skies over the Taiwan Strait translates to successfully repelling a Chinese invasion.  If the Chinese Air Force is able to stay roughly even or better, then Taiwan reverts back to a province of the People's Republic (?) of China.  I'm fascinated by the different opinions I've heard on this subject.  Please don't hesitate to let me know how you feel.

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