Saturday, October 04, 2008

Continued Debate on Defense Policy in the Nelson Report

The Nelson Report, the report on what Beltway insiders are thinking, has some very interesting stuff on the debate over William Murray's paper on the "porcupine defense" strategy for Taiwan:


PERSPECTIVE...more Taiwan arms discussion. First, a comment from consultant Gregg Rubinstein on the paper by Bill Murray of the Naval War College which has sparked so much interest here and on Taiwan, followed by a response to Murray from Amb. Harvey Feldman of Heritage, and an answer to Harvey from Bill.

Obviously we have to call a halt to this at some point, but we wanted to share the following, in view of what apparently WILL be the Taiwan arms package by the end of the Congressional day today.

First, some informed commentary, shall we say, via Rubinstein:

"The [Murray] article has some excellent points, though some seem to use its arguments selectively to further confuse what amounts to an improvised, knee-jerk approach to Taiwan defense matters.

While Murray is specific in many areas, we are still left without a clear definition of offensive weapons. Arguments on what Taiwan should have typically bog down because of this lack of consensus on what constitutes "weapons of an offensive character." For example, does this mean weapons that cannot reach China? Though simplistic, even this guideline might do if it reflected some serious thinking about Taiwan. But it doesn't.

Equipment is not the real issue here; it is lack of strategic policy. Good policy backed with a proper mix of defense planning and relevant transfers would enable Taiwan to dissuade China, something surely in US interest. The problem is that the US has not made a real effort to build up both a strategic dialogue and a capabilities assessment that evaluates needs in terms of perceived threat. The mechanisms to do so exist, but are useless without guidance from empowered decision makers. The substantive competence and morale courage to act within the legal framework of US- Taiwan relations has been lost in the fog of our preoccupation with China -- while China continues to build up its military leverage against Taiwan."

Feldman comment/question to Murray:

"You note that the PRC could crater the ROCAF airfields and suggest (1) hardening and (2) some rather sophisticated AA missiles.

As to (1) on a recent tour of two principal ROCAF fields, CCK and Tainan, I and 3 retired flag offiers (including a Marine AF 2 star and a USAF 3 star) found that the aircraft were stored in revetments and were told that rapid repair kits are on hand and are exercised monthly. So I think your recommendations are met.

As to (2), I agree completely they need SLAMRAAMs. Do you think the USG will sell them? Recall that the AIM-130s Taiwan bought are not allowed on the island and instead are required to be stored on Guam. Wonder how long it would take to get them from Guam to CCK.

Now since the F-16 A/Bs that Taiwan posses are in revetments, why do you object to selling the C/Ds which are far more capable than the A/B's?

As to storing consumables, I agree this would be desirable, but Taiwan is still a major rice growing country, so I think the people would continue to be fed. The vulnerabilityof the electric grid and transportation systems are worrisome, of course. And Taiwan's seaborne commerce is certainly hazard to subs, mining, or even just the announcement of blockade. However, please read Section 2(B)(3) and (4) of the Taiwan Relations Act. It would seem there must be a strong presumption of US involvement were Taiwan bombarded by the missiles emplaced in Fujian.

The basic differences between us come down, I think, to this: You seem to share a viewpoint I have heard expressed by naval officers -- Taiwan cannot defense itself in any serious way so they should just get out of the way and let us do the job.

But I have a 20 year old son and I would not like him to have to defend Taiwan. Therefore, I prefer that they have a defense capability of their own sufficient to let the Chinese know that the cost of military adventure would be high. By the way, that was the meaning of "porcupine defense" as enunciated by Singapore back in the days of "confrontasi" with Indonesia.

Therefore I believe that a true "porcupine defense" requires the 50-60 F-16 C/Ds for air defense over the Strait (if only to replace the IDFs and the 16s lost through attrition), and for interdicting an invasion force; ground launched Harpoon missiles; a full complement of Standard missiles for the Kidd class DDs; better radars with appropriate down and uplinks; and attack helicopters to mop up any forces that get to the long, long flats that lie ahead of Taiwan's beaches".

Murray response:

Thank you for your reply. Taiwan has, by my count, approximately 250 aircraft shelters, and has underground aircraft storage facilities at Taitung and Taishan air bases. We agree that these combined shelters couldallow some, and perhaps even most of Taiwan's tactical aircraft to survivean initial bombardment. But I maintain that Taiwan's runways probablycannot. It is true, as you pointed out, and as I mention in my attachedpaper, that Taiwan has Rapid Runway Repair (RRR) kits, at least some of which were purchased from the Colt Manufacturing company.

That firm's "Rapid Mat" RRR brochure states that a crater resulting from a delayed fused, concrete penetrating 100 pound warhead requires at least four hours and extensive heavy equipment to repair. But China's CSS-7 SRBMs are thought to be able to deliver an 800 kg warhead. How long would the resulting crater take to repair? What defends Taiwan's airspace in the meantime? How many CSS-7s does China posses, and how many of those have warheads specifically designed to destroy runways?

The issue would become a contest between China's ability to strike runways and Taiwan's ability to repair the damage inflicted. I think that China could outpace Taiwan in this battle for an extended period. I base this conclusion on significant evidence, which I present in my paper, of
China's likely possession of advanced anti-runway warheads and submunitions for their SRBMs, and anti-runway bombs.

It isn't just craters that Taiwan would have to contend with, either. Taiwan would also likely have to repair runways that have been "heaved".

As I understand the concept, some anti-runway munitions can explosively lift and displace slabs of runways. Such weapons have been employed by Western nations since the 1960s. It seems logical that China would seek such weapons, and that the repair of such damage would be more difficult than is the repair of a crater, especially if the heaved slabs were large.

It is unlikely that Taiwan can be denied the use of its runways indefinitely, and I do not mean to disparage Taiwan's ability or determination to repair their airfields after attacks. But as we know, China is increasing and improving its inventory of SRBMs.

Given the high payoff that anti-runway warheads would provide China, and given the evidence that strongly suggests China is about to or has already fielded such weapons, I remain doubtful that the purchase of additional F-16s is an optimum allocation of Taiwan's resources. We disagree on this.

You referred to Taiwan-purchased AIM-130s on Guam. I think you may have mis-typed, and that you are referring to the AIM-120 AMRAAMs. Shirley Kan states on page 17 of her CRS Report for Congress on Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990 dated January 8, 2008 that the Bush Administration authorized delivery of the AMRAAMs to Taiwan in 2002, allegedly after China test-fired imported Russian AA-12s. I cannot quickly find an authoritative citation to support this, but several internet sources strongly suggest that Taiwan has taken delivery of all these missiles.

You conclude that I advocate Taiwan stepping aside and letting the US military "do the job." If you would read my paper (attached) you would find that I advocate no such thing. I do not want your son, or my daughters, or any American Serviceman or woman to have to defend Taiwan. As the paper's opening paragraph states:

"China's recent military modernization has fundamentally altered Taiwan's security options. New Chinese submarines, advanced surface-to-air missiles, and, especially, short-range ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles have greatly reduced Taiwan's geographic advantage. Taipei can no longer expect to counter Chinese military strengths in a symmetrical manner, with Patriot interceptors, diesel submarines, surface warships, F-16 fighters, and P-3 maritime patrol aircraft. 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. This would enable Taipei to deter more effectively Beijing's use of coercive force, would provide better means for Taiwan to resist Chinese attacks should deterrence fail, and would provide the United States additional time to determine whether intervening in a cross-strait conflict was in its own national interest. The strategy would also place the responsibility for Taiwan's defense squarely on its own military. Finally, it would restore the United States to unambiguous compliance with the Taiwan Relations Act."

We concur in that the responsibility for defending Taiwan should be Taiwan's, and we agree on many, but not all of the details of how this can best be accomplished. Fair enough."


This blogger thinks Murray's approach might work in a united country where there was no fifth column party coordinating strategy with Beijing. But not only are Taiwan's political elites divided on the key question of Beijing, but one group of them is actively working with Beijing. That poses problems for the implementation of a strategy based on isolated resistance to Beijing. It is astonishing that this fact goes unreported on in the media and uncommented on in so many analyses.

...among ordinary people hardly anyone wants to be part of Beijing's incompetent and corrupt polity, and prolonged contact with China among Taiwanese businessmen there has not produced any great pro-China sentiment (quite the reverse). It seems likely that any attack on Taiwan by China might well produce united, stable, and unyielding anti-China sentiment here.

I wonder then if Murray has done the math and realized that what he is advocating is a kind of Taiwan independence via military strategy -- if China attacks, and Taiwan successfully resists, then sentiment for independence will skyrocket, and that coupled with US intervention may well create an independent Taiwan state. Following the logic of that, we arrive at the point where the US refrains from intervening because it does not want to create a de jure Taiwan state and peeve China, using the success of the porcupine as a plausible excuse to refrain from intervening.

Conclusion 1: In other words, the porcupine strategy appears to increase the possibility that the US will not intervene. Good-bye free Taiwan, we hardly knew ya.

Conclusion 2: If Taiwan follows this strategy, China must attack when KMT controls the local government, because a pro-Taiwan party may well turn a prolonged war into a struggle for independence. It thus follows that US support of Ma Ying-jeou was an error from this perspective. After all, the primary deterrent to a Chinese assault on Taiwan is not Taiwan's military but a political calculus that takes into account probable responses by Taiwan, Japan (remember that the war will be fought partly in Japanese airspace and on Japanese waters), and the US (itself dependent on a complex and unpredictable domestic calculus). Anything that increases the probability of Taiwanese resistance, and US and Japanese intervention, reduces the prospect of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Let's not forget -- what happens to the US-Japan alliance when Taiwan falls into Chinese hands? As I have noted many times here, Japan would at that point be faced with deeply unpalatable choices. Murray's military concepts might be sound, but I would argue the underlying political calculus is deeply flawed.


Tommy said...


Wouldnt you say though that much of the political support of the KMT for their objectives, even among many localised KMT members has to do with the assumption that China is benign? If an attack did occur and was successfully repelled or stalled, the KMT might then very quickly find that there was no support left for its unificationist agenda, even from most members of its own party.

Such an attack is unlikely while the KMT is in power anyways. Beijing wont attack if it feels there is the possibility of coming to a unification peace deal with a local party. The improvement of Taiwans defenses has to be undertaken with the future in mind.

Anonymous said...

"This blogger thinks ... there was no fifth column party coordinating strategy with Beijing."

Who and what are you referring to?

Anonymous said...

"if China attacks, and Taiwan successfully resists, then sentiment for independence will skyrocket, and that coupled with US intervention may well create an independent Taiwan state."

Even if some future Taiwan regime declares independence, I doubt China will attack for, among other reasons, what you state above.

What will probably happen if a future Taiwan leader declares independe is what happended to Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006: the military will remove him on constitutional grounds, the people will be ambivalent, the US will express disapproval but do nothing, the military will promise new elections in a few years, life will go on as before, no independence, no unification.

Anonymous said...

I had a very difficult time figuring whose words I was reading in this post. The speaker seemed to switch several times but it wasn't always clear to me which speaker was getting the microphone.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the "porcupine" strategy as I'm reading it is that there are no quills. China attacks and does damage, while Taiwan tries to survive the damage. Sounds more like a turtle strategy with damage to China being similar to bruising your fist on a turtle shell.

Quills would be missiles capable of firing back at places like Shanghai and even Beijing. They would have little strategic value from a purely military perspective, but they would make China feel some pain from the invasion.

Dixteel said...

After all these discussion I think many agree that Murray's report is mostly correct but it seems to be a bit too narrow, and like Michael said it missed the broader implication and political goals completely. It's a military report but military is there to serve political purpose and when it gets the goal wrong, the whole thing falls apart.

Murray is correct that Taiwan needs more dispersion and fortification (both hard and soft), defensive measures like SAM and helicopters etc to survive China's attack and maintain strong resistance. This is true also even if Taiwan choose to pursue more aggressive stance. The offensive weapon platforms such as jets and ships need airfield and shipyards, which require fortification and protection. While missiles launchers need to be dispersed and camouflaged...etc.

I know a lot of people don't like Israel, but Taiwan can learn a few things from it...of course the situation is mostly different (Taiwan is an island while Israel is mostly desert tied together with its enemy). But one thing I notice is that although Israel is quite aggressive (as some people think they use excessive retaliatory forces etc) and has extensive offensive weapons, their fortification and defensive ability is also quite substantial. They have underground bunkers and tunnel etc as well.

So my take on it is that yes, Taiwan needs to take Murray's suggestions seriously, but I think his strategy cannot be the full strategy of Taiwan. Taiwan's military needs to be better than just bing a good punching bag. A better result could be achieved in my opinion. Even if it means a bit more investment, it might be worth it. Of course Taiwan should not over spend in military, but right now Taiwan just don't spend that much at all. (only 3% or less of total GDP...that's very low comparing to South Korea, Japan, the US and most of other countries).

Yea, like Readin said...Taiwan should be a "porcupine", not just a "turtle." Investment in the quality and quantity of the quills is important. (real porcupine quills can be fatal to predator because it's backward barbed which can cause infection after needle penetration o_o). And if Taiwan can shot those quills right into the predator's eyes...even better. (well...a real porcupine cannot do that actually but it's not hard to imagine porcupine 10,000 later through evolutionary progress might be able to throw those needles with a wag of its tail, who knows.)