Friday, February 23, 2007

Taiwan: Air Superiority is most important

Retired Admiral Michael McDevitt of the Center for Naval Analyses argues for my point of view, that Taiwan's best defense lies in air superiority....

Believing Taiwan can deter "through wielding unacceptable punishment" is not only a waste of resources; it is downright dangerous as it could lead to neglecting genuine defense requirements, as well as instilling a false sense of confidence in the political leadership that could lead to a serious miscalculation. And, it could lead down the conceptual slippery slope to a rationale for nuclear weapons.

The only way Taiwan can "deter" China militarily is to convince the PLA that it could never successfully seize the island. Taiwan's reality is that the PLA can "punish" it through missile attacks, something that Taiwan can mitigate through hardened defenses, but not prevent. But, the PLA cannot capture Taiwan unless it can cross the Taiwan Strait – 100 miles of open water – and seize the island.

The way to make certain that could never happen is to ensure that Taiwan never loses air superiority over the strait. Without air superiority, an amphibious operation of the magnitude necessary to seize Taiwan is not possible. Air superiority was the essential prerequisite for the invasion at Normandy in 1944, and that prerequisite remains today. So long as the Taiwan Strait remains a "moat," the island is secure from seizure.
McDevitt seems to want to redeem himself for the godawful article on Taiwan-China relations he wrote last year. It should be noted that the vast majority of independent analysts favor Taiwan's acquisition of submarines. While I am favor of that too, I have more faith in the ability of attack jets, rather than attack subs, to stop an invasion. Taiwan needs to acquire another 200-300 modern fighters, a huge stockpile of ammo and spare parts, and harden and decentralize communications, command and control, and airfields.

However, McDevitt is a retired US Navy admiral, and the Navy has gone out of its way to sabotage the purchase of conventional submarines from the US by Taiwan, since the US Navy does not want the US to have a conventional sub manufacturing capability, lest Congress make them buy conventional subs instead of nukes. Hence, the push for air power has to be judged against the Navy's desire to avoid selling subs to Taiwan.

(thanks, Alton, for the link).


Anonymous said...

What's the current ratio of airplanes of PRC and Taiwan? I thought it is like 5 to 1 or 4 to 1. Air superiority is kind of difficult consider China out number Taiwan. However, if British can do it during WWII, maybe it is achievable goal.

Alton Thompson 唐博敦 said...

Thanks, Michael, for the commentary. I'm glad to read your take on it. He seemed to have a good point about Taiwan's best defense being a good defense (the offense threat being left to other countries) but the article left a great deal unsaid.

Anonymous said...

Michael, an Air Force is only good if you have runways that work. The PLA missiles will take out all the Taiwan AF runways as soon as the order is given, and keep them shut down. If you're willing to throw good money after bad, okay...but we warned you. Also, F-16s, Mirages, all high performance jets, need lots of runway, about 2 miles worth, to get off the ground fully loaded. That's a lot of real estate to keep filled from all the holes you're gonna get from the missiles.

Raj said...


Really? You do realise that the Chinese missiles lined up on the coast are not that accurate. Even used on mass the idea they could neutralise every runway on Taiwan's major bases is a joke only believed by the truly naive.

It's also worth noting from that from this year Taiwan will start to deploy its own anti-ballistic missile batteries to help counter such a threat.


China has an advantage in numbers, but not nearly as high in quality aircraft. It couldn't afford to throw every single good plane it had into the fight, so in the end the ROCAF may be able to hold its own if it gets the new F-16s and more AIM-120s.

Anonymous said...

Taiwan does have a underground hanger and air base. I don't know how long is the runways that are protected by the mountains. However, a low yield nuclear or neutron bomb missile will take care of it in like few seconds.

Anonymous said...


You, Sir, are the one who's naive if you think the current crop of PLA missiles are "not that accurate." Did you get that from reading other blogs? That statement might have been true a decade ago, but the boys on the Mainland have been working overtime to get their missiles up to world class standards. Let's just say the combination of Harpy Anti-Radiation UAVs, ballisic missiles and air and ground Launched cruise missiles will pretty much take care of any ground based air and missile defense and airbases. The numerical superiority China already possesses, plus the new qualitative superiority, ensures them a high chance of success in the anti-air campaign. It's the amphibious capabilites that they're not so sure of right now.

Haitien said...

Well, accuracy of PRC missiles notwithstanding, I think it is generally agreeed that any large-scale PRC attack will concentrate on neutralizing or disabling Taiwan's airfields through one way or another. While there has been some work on hardening airfields and training personnel on rapid runway repairs, I think it's still something we are going to have to plan around. Acquiring VTOL aircraft like the Harrier would be nice, but unlikely given political complications.

The Navy's surface ships will have an important role providing mobile anti-aircraft fire. The static land-based Patriot and Sky Bow SAM sites are probably pretty high on the PLA's list of targets. Aircraft are important in the scheme of offshore engagement, but it's certainly not the only component. As the saying goes, there are plenty of planes on the bottom of the ocean, but you won't find any ships in the sky.

Raj said...

"Did you get that from reading other blogs?"

No, I got it from military specialists that research Chinese technology for a living.

arty, using nuclear weapons would be the best way of kicking off World War III.

Anonymous said...

Patriot missle defense system doesn't work that's why US is selling it like hot cake. It only intercepts missles during the entry phase. Just like our ICBM missle defense system, it doesn't even work on paper (see both Science and Nature reviews), because from detection to launch to intercept, the incoming missles are already in its entry phase or already hit depending where the targets are.

Also, why worry about missle accuracy when a low yield neutron bomb has a radius of 50-100 miles. And Raj, if you think PRC's airforce's airplanes are bad, you are violating the first rule of engagement, you should never underestimate your enemies. As far as I know, China has been launching rocky like crazy and this give them the opportunities to study scram jet design.