Monday, April 20, 2009

Defense Round-up

The Jamestown brief has a piece on Taiwan's Quadrennial Defense review by a former defense minister.
It is important to point out that Taiwan’s QDR is influenced by the main argument of the “Murray Report,” which stated, “Taipei can no longer expect to counter Chinese military strengths in a symmetrical manner. Taiwan must therefore rethink and redesign its defense strategy, emphasizing the asymmetrical advantage of being the defender, seeking to deny the People's Republic its strategic objectives rather than attempting to destroy its weapons systems.” The "Murray Report" recommends that Taiwan should forego naval and air superiority, digging in and relying on passive defense by ground forces. Nevertheless, air and maritime forces still play critical roles in the defense of Taiwan. Given the substantial imbalances in the defensive and offensive strengths between Taiwan and China, respectively, effective air and maritime defense capabilities are still a critical deterrent for the self-defense of Taiwan. Accordingly, the "Murray Report" should not be taken as the blueprint of instructing Taiwan's national defense strategy. The government needs to show determination in strengthening Taiwan's overall defense capabilities so that the Taiwanese people can be reassured that a Chinese invasion would be met with an effective Taiwanese counterforce.
The paper referred to here is the infamous piece by William Murray, which I discussed in a previous round-up of the QDR, and in the fall of 2008 (here, here, here) when debate raged among US experts. Murray's paper has been found useful by certain parties within both the US government and the Taiwan government who do not want to see Taiwan's offensive military capabilities improved.

Meanwhile the US Navy is watching the PLA strengthen with the plans to build an aircraft carrier but that won't affect cooperation.
This year’s US Defense Department annual report on Chinese military capabilities said China was making advances in denying outsiders access to offshore areas and was improving its nuclear, space and cyber warfare capabilities.

Last week a Chinese admiral told state media that China would accelerate development of warships, stealth submarines and long-range missiles as the country makes a stronger navy a priority in military modernization.

Chinese media have also highlighted the government’s hopes to build an aircraft carrier, seen as the badge of a mature ocean-going power, prompting concern in the region about China’s military ambitions and how that could alter the balance of power.

“There has been no doubt in my mind that the acquisition of an aircraft carrier and carrier aviation was something that was clearly an ambition and an objective of the PLA navy,” Roughead said.

“The advent of an aircraft carrier on the part of the PLA navy to me really doesn’t change the nature of our operations at all,” he said. “The real issue is: How are those aircraft carriers used and what is the intent of that capability?”

The US Navy's position appears to be that it is committed to cooperation irrespective of how the Chinese behave.

Last week it was reported in Defense News that Taiwan was considering building its own submarines:
The United States offered Taiwan a cost-effective solution in 2003 when Italy offered to sell eight de­commissioned Sauro-class diesel submarines for only $2 billion. De­livery would have begun in 2006 af­ter the United States refurbished the vessels. However, Taiwan rejected the offer and continued to insist on new submarines. Further complicating the issue, a special budget for submarines was held up in the legislature for six years due to political infighting be­tween elements supporting inde­pendence from China and others supporting unification.

“Any move by the Ma administra­tion to examine alternative acquisi­tion routes for diesel submarines should be welcomed,” a former Pentagon official said.

However, many ask whether the self-governing island can build a complex platform like a submarine. “The question is not whether Tai­wan can or cannot make sub­marines. Colombian drug runners can make submarines,” the former Pentagon official said. “The ques­tion is, how sophisticated of a sub­marine could Taiwan industry pro­duce” without U.S. assistance? Taiwan’s state-owned China Ship­building Corp. (CSBC) has success­fully built naval vessels. CSBC built eight Perry-class (Cheng Kung­class) frigates under U.S. license in the 1990s and is constructing 29 Kuang Hua VI-class missile boats armed with Hsiung Feng 2 (Brave Wind) anti-ship missiles.
I heard from individuals with strong knowledge of local defense issues that one should be skeptical about whether such plans will ever come to fruition. For reference, check out former Pentagon Taiwan expert Mark Stokes' excellent piece in Heritage on the arms purchase and related issues. The Italian Sauro class submarines Wiki page makes it easy to see why Taiwan didn't want them. They are early 1980s subs.

On Saturday the 9th of May there is a conference at the Ambassador Hotel on Taiwan's security and diplomacy. More details as they arrive.

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Red A said...

"Murray's paper has been found useful by certain parties within both the US government and the Taiwan government who do not want to see Taiwan's offensive military capabilities improved."

I have not read the paper, but I am not sure that Taiwan might not be better served by more ground defenses and less "high tech" weaponry, with an exception perhaps in the air. Even there, wouldn't more SAMs work better than fighters? Simple sea mines and land based anti-naval missiles better than expensive navy vessels that may end up stuck in port anyways?

Dixteel said...

After reading all these colorful discussion and reading Murray's report myself (quite some time ago, so my memory of it might be fuzzy) are some of my conclusion:

Murray is right that Taiwan cannot simply challenge China symmetrically. Taiwan is strategically in a defensive position so Taiwan needs to take full advantage of it. The strait etc are natural barrier and it's possible that Taiwan can make any Chinese invasion attempt nearly impossible, if the will is there.

However, Murray might be wrong I think in several points. First, I think he seems extremely confident in his report and accuse those who would argue against him as lobbyist for navy and airforce weapons manufacturers. But what stops someone from accusing him for being an army lobbyist?

Second, he gave the impression that this strategy is an easy way out for the US, but seems to fail to convince others that this is actually good for Taiwan. Then should Taiwan really follow his advice? Because after all implementing his strategy probably just means one less worry for the US, but a total ruin for Taiwan.

Thirdly, he seems to only consider 1 strategy from China: missiles barrage followed by full scale invasion. What if China uses other strategy that doesn't kill Taiwan out right, but gradually strangle Taiwan, or making crippling cuts on Taiwan's limbs? Certainly those ways could achieve Chinese political objective as well.

Forthly, his strategy seems very passive and throughout military history passive strategy usually doesn't work so well. Being temporarily passive during war and battle is one thing, building the whole arm forces on a passive strategy is quite another. Doing so also makes his strategy looks more like "turtle strategy" instead of "porcupine strategy" he advocated, as someone pointed out before. And it allow others to take his points to the extreme for political reasons.

Overall, I think Murray might have some good ideas, like fortifying Taiwan with helicopters, SAM and sea mines etc, which will make China's aggression difficult. But we have to note that those things are not cheap neither, and probably require in greater quantity. For example, AH-64, Patriot missiles aren't cheap. And modern sea mines also require some investment to be of any use. The important thing is not how cheap or expensive something is though, but how Taiwan can invest in the defense forces more effectively. And Taiwan needs to spend a bit more, that I think most people, in Taiwan and in the US, would agree.

curious john said...

aehhm.. Can we say "Taiwan is a new Tibet" already or should i wait the next 5 years? not that Taiwan is ocupated by chinese already.

Anonymous said...

Patriot missiles are a complete waste of money. They are two-three times more expensive and Taiwan buys less than China builds in missiles. The only way to deter a missile threat is with missiles. Otherwise, Taiwan will go bankrupt.

Dixteel said...


yes, i agree that the best thing Taiwan can have is the ability to retaliate...and doesn't matter with what. We don't necessary need to use ballistic missiles like China, and we don't have to use just land based weapons neither. Cruise missiles, UAV, F-16s, etc etc are all possible options. If these retaliatory forces can destroy enemy's source of attack, all the better, but I think that might not be easy.

However, just my opinion, PAC missiles are not a completely waste of money. If we can have at least a limited protection on our strategic positions, it will make China's attack more difficult. PAC might be expensive, but some of the assets China can hit with their missiles are even more expensive. Any way, from low tech concrete fortification to high tech anti-missiles missiles, which we can use to help protecting those assets, in my opinion is not a complete waste of money. If originally China require 300 missiles to cripple Taiwan's air base in area A, but now they need 600 missiles to do the same job (because 1 in 2 missiles would be intercepted or hitting ineffectively), then that's not a waste of money. PAC cannot deter missiles attacks of course but it can decrease their effectiveness.

And I am hoping that anti-missiles technology can improve and become much cheaper. The US and Japan are both working on it. This will be very advantageous to Taiwan. Because they are defensive weapons so Taiwan will have much less trouble getting them, according to TRA. It will be a big blow to China's military due to their heavy reliance on missiles system.

Also, I was just using PAC as an example. There are other SAM, which are effective anti-aircraft weapons. But again my point is they are not that cheap neither, but Taiwan cannot just evaluate things on price. How they can be used is also important.

Dixteel said...

hmm....just another thought. A lot of people think missile defense is a waste of money. For the US maybe it is because the US is so freaking huge. But actually...for Taiwan, a small island, missile defense might be an effective strategy. Due to its small size, "missile shield" coverage can be very dense and a large percentage of the island would be inside the coverage.

Because of the small size, all targets are within China's attack range, and there are not a lot of area which Taiwan can spread out its military asset etc. But also due to the small's easier to defend, like a giant ship, in a way.

I am no expert in this, but just a thought...