2009/08/26

Taiwan's defence - the army

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It seems as if calls for additional modern combat aircraft and submarines for the Republic of China (Taiwan) are gaining some momentum these days.

I do understand the submarine part, but not so well the aircraft part. Taiwan is in no position to compete with PRC air power in the long run. Subs are fine for underdogs, fighters not so much.

The calls for such big-ticket, high-end systems are even more ugly if you look at the ROC Army.
Their army is essentially stuck in the 60's. They have major weapon systems like M48 and M60 main battle tanks, M109 SPHs and many towed FHs.
Almost a hundred attack helicopters and insufficient quantities of anti-air and anti-tank missiles are their most notable modern weapons.

The visible systems give an incomplete impression of an army's modernity and an even more incomplete impression of its capabilities. Many strengths are difficult to see in peacetime.
Nevertheless, the neglect of the army seems to be quite obvious.

I keep having problems taking their defence efforts seriously.

An old saying asserts that the army with the most fancy uniforms loses. This saying has some truth in it. An emphasis of form over function has hurt many organizations in history, and armies are no exception.


It could be argued that cool modern-looking fighters and surface warships are today's "fancy uniforms".
The ROC's defence politicians seem to have a preference for form over function, and it feels comfortable not to be allied with Taiwan.


Sven Ortmann
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5 comments:

  1. good article

    but I think you're forgetting about the buffer that the Strait pf Taiwan represents, the Navy (particularly their submarines) and the Air Force are big enough and modern enough to slow down a Chinese invading or attacking force considerably, giving enough time for other ground forces to rally up and as you said fight the real war.

    They would be able to put up a hell of a fight that way and even if they were devastated and the Chinese did make a successful invasion rag tags of special forces armed with Javelin's and Stingers would do a lot of damage to the invading forces!

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  2. I think their defense strategy probably depends on naval and air assistance from allies. From that standpoint, the additional airplanes as a supplement to allied air power make sense. They are probably counting on seaborne air defence to a large extent, but that's probably a mistake, as without help they would eventually loose the naval battle and would hand over their airspace to the Chinese. Without the heavy naval guns of yesterday's battle ships, the Chinese would have to rely on air power and amphibious armor to prepare for landings. This is where having strong land-based anti-aircraft defences would help them alot, and for an underdog power like the ROC this would be a much better investment than an airforce that will be quickly swatted out of the sky by a superior opponent.

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  3. Suggested reading:

    http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG888/?ref=homepage&key=t_chinese_military_class

    It appears that not so long ago China was the underdog compared to Taiwan (+US) for what concerns air power. I was surprised.

    The RAND study says that Taiwan has a big problem in keeping its airfields & airforce functional.

    Also: PLAN will apparently get a number of those Russian monster LCACs "Pomornik" from Ukraine.
    Taken from: http://www.marineforum.info/AKTUELLES/aktuelles.htm

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    1. Every study says that Taiwan will have an airfield problem. If the aircrafts can not only use concrete, but flat grasslands for at least a few weeks, the whole issue looks different. I start to mistrust this whole cry "help-us-defend-ourselves" because it can very well serve to get hands on foreign systems and transmit information elsewhere in exchange for a good deal, that would better serve Taiwanese interests and capabilities. There's simple too little indigenious effort to assume that they feel a serious threat they want to repel at all costs.

      Kurt

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  4. How do you defend Taiwan?
    I would take a look at Singapore.
    Singapore is very limited and clearly intends to occupy other lands if under attack. Taiwan will likely be unbale to do more than block Shanghai and Hong Kong harbours.

    Taiwan is a highly urbaized and hilly island. It makes little sense to invest into a lot of heavy armour. Mobile artillery with light mechanized infantry will be very useful while the tanks date from a different era when their opponent was far less affluent and thus offered a force multiplier. Important for this force will be networking and increased range for the guns in a network will be a most important feature. Rockets are a good idea because of rapid fire and long range in a fight that will last hours or days.

    Taiwan needs every modern fighter they can get.Normally, you would except Taiwan to be in the business of developing numerous affordable fighters with limited multi-role applications (make multirole a rather networked capability with good information communication in order to attack ships and landing parties whenever possible) as the skies would be more than filled with PRC aircrafts. These Taiwanese aircrafts will be well-served with large amounts of missiles, including a staggering bvr arsenal. Taiwan can have an advanatge by a massive investment into directing their fighters to win series of local engagements, while not offering much unhardend targets on the ground.

    Missile defence is another issue that best combines land and sea assets for surviveability and very dependent on electronic warfare investments.

    Helicopters are very expensive and won't pay off as much in a high force density environment. Some kind of light STOL COIN aircraft for anti-armour missions should be cheap enough and run from any flat grass or concrete surface. Again it's about numbers, training and being networked.

    Homegrown diesel-electric submarines are a self-evident requirement and in an ideal world they should carry mines and missiles to strike at enemy infrastructure. To some degree submarines could be supplanted by submersibles that lay naval mines or dispose of them and have a higher surviveability of light ship designs.

    The problem is not the weapons to defend Taiwan, but the people to defend Taiwan. There are Taiwanese willing to fight and others who won't. This pan-blue/pan-green divide makes it tragic, but unlikely, that there'll be much resistance and sending templates of modern equipment there is rather like sending same samples to the PRC for study. If Taiwan really wants to defend, then some advice and help on how to develop indigenious systems tailored to their situational needs should suffice. They are far more numerous than Israel and no uneducated backwater.

    Kurt

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