In a fight for Taiwan, China is not a close opponent


In what appeared to be a blunder, President Joe Biden confirmed at the end of October what the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have known for decades: Despite its official position of strategic ambiguity, America will most likely come to the rescue of Taiwan in response. to unprovoked Chinese aggression. As the White House quickly backed down on the president’s comments, subsequent remarks by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his deputy for East Asia and Pacific Affairs affirmed the Biden administration’s intention. to take unspecified measures in response to Chinese attempts to change the status quo between the two shores. . The Pentagon would have to assume that all of these statements were sincere. It must now find a credible way to deal with the high probability that, with the military services currently staffed, trained and equipped, the joint force would fail to repel an invasion, occupation and seizure of the island by the people. . Liberation Army (APL). Rather than spending the next five to ten years hedging in the hope that the relative quality of its military and weapon systems would give its forces an advantage over those of its PLA opponent in the rear In the latter’s course, the US military leadership would have to admit failure now. Only after recognizing that the PLA has won the current round will the Department of Defense (DoD) leadership realize the steps they need to take to win the game.

America is near, not China

In a RAND 2020 study titled Military trends and the future of war, Forrest Morgan and Raphael Cohen summarize their findings with a table of global trends, accompanied by possible American opponents, American means of warfare, likely locations of conflict, and reasons why the United States is engaging in hostilities. One trend they identify – “the increasing modernization and professionalization of peer-close forces” – would involve the United States, alongside “certain allies or partners”, fighting either Russia or China. They estimated that this future conflict would probably take place in the East China Sea, in and around Taiwan, in the South China Sea or in the Baltic. The reason: “China or Russia calculate that they can deny the United States sufficient access to frustrate efforts to change the territorial status quo. Replace Ukraine with the Baltic States, and any of these possibilities seem far more likely than plausible.

Although the DoD does not have a formal definition of “close peer adversary,” the term is common organizational jargon for references to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia. Thus, the Pentagon characterizes China as a near-peer based entirely on a set of metrics it has established to measure its own capabilities. This side-by-side comparison represents the worst qualities of institutional mirror imagery that the US intelligence community teaches all of its analysts to rigorously avoid.

This unofficial term “near-peer” is surprising because, without qualification, it implies that in any engagement America finds itself in with one or both powers, its military forces enjoy inherent structural advantages. How these benefits manifest themselves in any scenario is not clear. While the US military may have the upper hand in certain geographic theaters and eventualities, is America the peer of Russia on the Ukrainian border or near the Baltic states? Is America Peer to China in the South China Sea? The answer is a categorical “no” to the ability to influence these regions through the projection of military power. Of all the potential hot spots in US-China relations, the most glaring power asymmetry can be found in the Taiwan Strait. Why then do the DoD and the wider national security community refer to China and Russia as quasi-peers when in the most likely future conflict America will be at some form of disadvantage inherent?

Beyond the apparent distortion of the relative local balance of power between China and the United States in and around Taiwan, the term is emblematic of the institutional pride that characterizes the way the DoD approaches adversaries and problems. In this way, the US defense establishment fell victim to a broader national curse of US “strategic narcissism,” as Hans Morgenthau coined and repeatedly mentioned by the former national security adviser, General HR McMaster. This sense of institutional superiority was categorically repudiated by retired Marine Corps General and Defense Secretary James Mattis in a 2018 “Message to the Force” when he wrote: “We have no rights. divine to victory ”. The DoD has just learned this lesson the hard way in Afghanistan. Given Beijing’s stated intentions and the PLA’s burgeoning operational capability, it has no excuse to avoid a repeat in the Taiwan Strait.

Aircraft carriers and F-35s are not magic weapons

Although a bit dated, the 2015 RAND US-China Military Scorecard provides a sobering assessment of the growing benefits of the PLA across the entire operational spectrum. As the dashboard projections end in 2017, they paint a startling picture of how quickly the PLA has qualitatively increased its ability to defeat the U.S. military in a conflict in Taiwan. Trends quickly shifted in favor of the PLA among identified military capabilities, with the gap widening day by day.

While the PLA quickly reformed and modernized its force, the DoD continues to rely on the same traditional exquisite platforms for power projection. I previously pleaded for the National interest that the F-35 fighters were not the weapon the Taiwanese military would need to defend their island. The same goes for the DoD’s ability to defeat the PLA off the coast of China. Aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships that, respectively, will carry the US Navy and Marine Corps fifth-generation fighter variants will be threatened by the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) at distances so extreme that they will not be able to launch their planes within the combat range of Taiwan or mainland China. If the ships sail close enough to the battle zone to give their pilots a chance to return home, they will be well within range of PLA Air Force (PLAAF) land planes and PLA surface fighters and aircraft carriers. Navy (PLAN). fighters. US submarines can maintain PLAN surface ships and submarines at bay in support; However, they cannot destroy the entirety of PLAN, which the DoD confirmed earlier this year is now the largest naval force in the world. Those US Navy submarines and surface fighters that were not destroyed in the opening salvo would empty their magazines so quickly that they would have to leave the battle zone to rearm in ports that would be under constant threat of damage. attacks by the PLAN and the PLARF. missiles.

In early 2021, the outgoing Indo-Pacific commander, Admiral Phil Davidson, granted Taiwan six years during his last testimony in Congress. Within that six-year window, the most significant military action could take place in less than a week. Rumors abound that the PLA’s goal is to capture Taiwan within five days. During those five days, unless it makes monumental changes, the DoD should expect several of its beloved aircraft carriers and their associated surface combat escorts to suffer catastrophic destruction of from PLARF. Its impressive array of anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles will kill hundreds, if not thousands, of US sailors and navies and send countless more into the waters of the Western Pacific, surrounded by burning metal, oil and jet fuel. If they may even be able to affect combat, pilots from the Air Force, Navy and Marines will be shot down in numbers that eclipse those in the Vietnam War. In the face of this destruction, the military will wait diligently on the periphery but will likely play an insignificant role in the short conflict. U.S. Special Operations Forces have perfected the art of special reconnaissance and direct action, among other missions, through continued deployments to the Middle East and North Africa over the past two decades. And because they have disproportionately deployed on America’s behalf to support the global war on terror, they are not trained to be effectively employed off the coast of China to defend Taiwan.

New operational concepts are not enough

While the world order is witnessing the era of “peak China”, the DoD does not have much time to synchronize the efforts of its services. Under Commander General David Berger, the Marine Corps most effectively pivoted to strategic competition with China. His recently published “A Concept for Stand-in Forces” perfectly sums up the strategic situation facing the US military:

Potential rivals and their proxies across the globe have spent decades studying means for the force to project power, and then developed concepts and associated abilities to counter them. These counter-intervention strategies aim to disrupt the plans and operating methods of the joint force… These rivals specifically apply counter-intervention strategies against the freedom of action of the fleet in the contested area. They are developing denial of sea capabilities intended to push our areas of operations beyond useful ranges.

All services have individual plans to compete in a strategic competition against the threat described above. The army has advanced “multi-domain operations” and is setting up working groups of the same name. The Navy and Marine Corps team merged “Distributed Maritime Operations” with “Basic Forward Expeditionary Operations”. To forge a more agile and weaker signature deployment ploy, the Air Force developed “agile combat employment”. While these updated plans are a step in the right direction, they are not enough to defeat the PLA juggernaut in the Taiwan Strait. Replacing outdated service-specific operating models with new ones is simply a continuation of the culture and decision-making that led to the current DoD dilemma.


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