Can China land its forces on Taiwan?
There’s no guarantee Chinese forces would even make it ashore. The Taiwan Strait is just 100 miles wide, but in wartime those hundred miles could be some of the most dangerous on Earth.
Taipei’s missileers could fire long-range cruise missiles at Chinese ports and airfields, pummeling the invasion force before it even leaves China. The Taiwanese navy plans to lay hundreds of sea mines along the strait. Taiwanese F-16s and coastal-defense units are ready to lob Harpoon anti-ship missiles at ships attempting to dash across the choppy water.
If Chinese Troops Land, The Taiwanese Army Would Send Its New Joint Battalions Onto The Beach
If China invades Taiwan and succeeds in establishing a beachhead along the main island’s southwestern plain, Taipei’s defense strategy calls on the army to surround and destroy the Chinese landing force before it can break out.
The battle would be chaotic. Chinese troops undoubtedly would target the command links between Taiwanese army brigades and their front-line battalions, hoping to confuse and paralyze counterattacking forces.
To give its formations the best possible chance of defeating a Chinese lodgement, the Taiwanese army is reorganizing. The service is standing up dozens of new battalions combining drones, missiles, armored vehicles and, in the near future, American-made M-1 tanks.
Most importantly, the battalions would be independent. Meaning they could continue fighting even after Chinese troops cut them off from their higher headquarters.
But let’s assume a portion of the PLA’s amphibious force survives the crossing and also survives the landing. Imagine D-Day, but with anti-tank missiles.
Thousands of Chinese troops are ashore. That’s when the Taiwanese army would mobilize for so-called “homeland defense operations.”
“This phase of operations would revolve around the defense of beaches, ports and airstrips, denying them to PLA assault groups,” the California think-tank RAND explained in a 2017 report. “If PLA forces did manage to establish beachheads for follow-on reinforcements, the objective of this phase would be to launch multiple waves of counterattacks to surround and annihilate these forces along the coast.”
But the counterattacking brigades would be under relentless air and missile attack by Chinese air and naval forces. The PLA also could jam and hack the communications links between the front-line battalions and their brigade headquarters.
To ensure the battalions can press their counterattacks, Taipei in late 2019 began standing up “joint battalions” within existing army brigades. A year later there are 22 joint battalions, each with around 500 troops.
“A joint battalion includes liaison officers from various units, such as infantry, armored forces, the navy, the air force and army aviation, as well as different specialist officers and soldiers,” Kelvin Chen wrote at Taiwan News. “Battalions will also have unmanned-aerial-vehicle drone operators, Stinger [surface-to-air] missiles, sniper groups and a series of Clouded Leopard eight-wheeled armored vehicles.”
Each with its own intelligence, reconnaissance and air-defense troops, the battalions in theory could defend themselves while pressing their own attacks.
The most meaningful advancement isn’t some drone or tank, it’s that the battalions train for independent operations. And new army doctrine authorizes them to fight in the absence of centralized control. “If brigade-level units can delegate command to the joint battalions, the survival rate of ground troops can be improved,” Chen wrote.
And that’s bad news for a Chinese landing force that’s counting on disrupting the Taiwanese army’s command links.
If China Invades, Taiwan Could Target Shanghai And Beijing With Cruise Missiles
If Beijing pulls the trigger and sends its forces streaming across the Taiwan Strait, the war could end quickly. Chinese rockets could pummel Taiwanese forces into submission, clearing the way for tens of thousands of Chinese marines to rush ashore on the plains of southwestern Taiwan.
That’s the best-case scenario for China. The worst-case scenario is that the invasion gets hung up on Taiwan’s fortified island of Penghu, the U.S. Navy sends in two or three aircraft carrier battle groups and the war drags out for many bloody weeks.
If that happens, Taiwan could do more than merely defend its islands and beaches. It could strike back at China with a growing arsenal of long-range, supersonic cruise missiles that could reach as far inland as Beijing.
Unable directly to compete with China, Taiwan has rewritten its war strategy. Instead of meeting the PLA plane-for-plane, ship-for-ship and tank-for-tank, the Taiwanese military plans to let the Chinese get close—then lob thousands of missiles at them. “Taiwan’s objectives are to deter and delay potential invasion,” the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative explained.
Taiwan’s huge and growing missile arsenal includes Stinger, Chaparral, Patriot, Tien Chien and Tien Kung surface-to-air missiles; Javelin, TOW and Hellfire anti-tank missiles; and Harpoon and Hsiung Feng anti-ship missiles.
Those shorter-range missiles essentially are defensive in nature. For hitting back at China, Taiwan fields Wan Chien air-launched cruise missiles and Yun Feng ground-launched cruise missiles.
The Yun Feng, a product of Taiwan’s own National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, poses the greater threat to China.
The missile can travel as far as a thousand miles with a 500-pound warhead. It’s unclear what kind of guidance systems it includes, but it could be a combination of GPS and self-contained inertial guidance.
The Yun Feng is supersonic thanks to its combined-cycle propulsion. A solid rocket booster accelerate the missile to its cruise speed, at which point an air-fed ramjet takes over. Japan’s fearsome ASM-3 anti-ship missile uses the same kind of propulsion.
In theory, Yun Fengs launching from Taiwan could strike PLA bases in Shanghai and Beijing. Airfields and command centers are the most valuable targets.
“In fielding modern cruise missiles, Taipei conveys to Beijing that a war would not be confined to the island and surrounding waters,” explained the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. “Cruise missiles allow Taipei to inflict costs on China, both by striking PLA targets and by bringing the war home for Chinese citizens.”
The PLA could attempt to defend against barrages of Yun Fengs by positioning surface-to-air missile batteries around the most important bases and by suppressing Taiwanese missile units on the ground.
But missile-defenses rarely work. And it’s notoriously difficult to destroy small, mobile launch units when they’re under concealment. During wartime, Taiwan probably would be able to launch most of its Yun Fengs. And most of those would hit something.
Taiwan began fielding the Yun Feng as early as 2014. Testing continued in 2020. It’s unclear how many Yun Fengs Taiwan has deployed or plans to deploy. But the more cruise missiles Taiwan can launch at China, the riskier an invasion becomes for Beijing.
EDITORS’ PICK|173,032 views|Jun 7, 2020,07:50am EDT
If China Invades Taiwan, This Is What The Fleet Could Look Like
The Chinese Navy, officially known as the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), is unrecognizable compared to twenty years ago. The most visible change is that it now has two aircraft carriers, and more are being built. These are escorted by modern air-defense destroyers generally modeled on the U.S. Navy’s AEGIS warships.
This ‘blue water’ navy makes indirect approaches, from the Pacific side of Taiwan, more viable. In the past China’s ability to operate in the open ocean, away from land-based air cover, was doubted. Now the new warships, particularly the destroyers and frigates are well defended enough to encircle Taiwan. China’s fleet of submarines, the world’s largest, could also be used in this way. This could make it harder for the Taiwanese Navy to outflank the invasion fleet.
In an invasion the PLAN’s aircraft carriers would likely operate over the horizon where they are safer from counter-attack. But unlike in past wars, their position would probably be known most of the time. Open source intelligence (OSINT) such as commercial satellites provide relatively frequent coverage. Aircraft carriers can be detected even on low resolution imagery.
The amphibious ships, required to deliver the troops to the shore, have also been transformed beyond all recognition. The backbone is currently the Type-071 Yuzhao class, which is similar in concept to the U.S. Navy’s San Antonio Class. These are called Landing Platform Docks (LPDs) because they have a flooded well deck at the back. They use hovercraft and helicopters to land troops. This allows them to do it from much further offshore than traditional landing craft.
They are being joined in service by China’s first Type-075 assault carriers. These are similar to the America Class, with large flat-top aircraft decks like a regular aircraft carrier. But they also have a flooded dock for hovercraft. The Chinese ones will likely only have helicopters aboard. This might end up being the Z-20, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk.
The troops involved, at least in the initial assault, would most likely be from the Army’s amphibious assault brigades. China’s Marine Corps may play a part but the main amphibious force is in the Army. These are equipped with amphibious tanks and troop carriers.
The amphibious assault brigades would establish a beachhead so that a vast fleet of landing ships could pump in fresh troops. Many of these landing ships are older and would have to come right up to the shore to unload their troops and vehicles. But regular main battle tanks would soon join the first troops. Hovercraft would also continue to play a part. There are even several gigantic Zubr Class hovercraft in service which can carry up to 500 troops at a time.
There are many factors beyond the fleet which would influence the outcome. B.A. Friedman, a military analyst who focuses on amphibious warfare and is the author of On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle, believes that a Chinese landing would face stiff opposition. “Taking Taiwan would be the one of the most difficult amphibious operations in history, if not the most difficult. Taiwan has had decades to prepare. Every landing spot is planned and the defensive plans are dialed in.”
And more importantly, successful military operations are more than an equipment list. Friedman agrees that China has the right tools, and enough of them, to mount a viable operation. But he questions whether they have the know-how or willpower to buy the beaches with blood. “The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has very little combat experience, and even less amphibious warfare experience,” he notes.
Another change in the last twenty years is the information environment. As we said the Open Sources, like social media posts and satellite images will provide extensive coverage. So the Chinese Army (PLA) would have to do it while the world watches. The entire operation would be broadcast.
China may care about the optics. A violent struggle with heavy losses may send the wrong messages. And the longer it goes on, the better Taiwan’s chances of an international intervention become.
What Happens After China Invades Taiwan?
Even a tactically “successful” invasion of the island might lead to strategic defeat for the PRC and the Communist Party.
By Wang MouzhouMarch 24, 2017
Let’s assume, hypothetically, that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) successfully conquers Taiwan. Most analyses of an attempted invasion consider only if the PRC could successfully subdue Taiwan. The consequences of an attempted invasion –even a tactically successful one – have received little thought, however. This analysis considers some likely consequences for the PRC if it attempts and/or completes an invasion of Taiwan. Likely consequences include: the direct human and economic expenditures of the invasion itself; the costs of garrisoning Taiwan; the PRC’s post-war diplomatic and economic isolation; and, finally, the significant and potentially destabilizing process of incorporating 23 million individuals into the PRC.
Wang Mouzhou is the pen name of a former NSA intelligence officer. This article represents his own personal opinion.
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