A Taiwanese Mirage 2000 flies at low altitude during a drill. Taiwan will be retiring its Mirage aircraft over the next decade. (Agence France-Presse)
TAIPEI — In a marked departure from past efforts, the opposition party’s think tank, New Frontier Foundation, released a remarkable report on China’s military ambitions against Taiwan.
Foundation President Su Tseng-Chang, who also serves as chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), released the “Defense Policy Blue Paper” on March 4.
“China’s Military Threats Against Taiwan in 2025” is the fifth in a series of “blue papers” produced by the DPP think tank on defense issues, but it is 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. Past reports have been amateurish and disappointing.
York Chen, convener of the Foundation’s Defense Policy Advisory Committee, compiled and edited the paper. Chen said this paper took a more balanced view of the PLA with input from former Taiwan military officers, US analysts, and reports issues by the Ministry of National Defense (MINDEF).
The report states that Taiwan must raise its defense budget “to the level of 3% of GDP” and build an effective “national defense with Taiwanese characteristics.” Taiwanese characteristics emphasizes 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, the paper wants to raise the status of MINDEF’s Information and Electronic Warfare Command in the organization chart. It also wants to attract more information warfare personnel, develop asymmetrical cyber operational concepts and equipment, and strengthen its cyber “front lines.”
On the indigenous submarine issue, the paper recommends an immediate two-stage build 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.”
York said the best way to proceed was 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.
“Submarines are the major platforms to deny the PLA’s invasion fleet from crossing the Strait,” the paper said. “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.
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.
For this reason, the paper suggests Taiwan procure unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), go forward on fighter aircraft upgrades, refine precision strike munitions, and develop next-generation fighters, including the procurement of “vertical and/or short take-off and landing” (V/STOL) fighters.
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. ■