Marines: The Losers Game

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October 23, 2009: Despite reassuring statements from China, Taiwanese intelligence has detected increased Chinese efforts to increase the military forces aimed at Taiwan. It's not just the amphibious ships and troops that worry the Taiwanese. The biggest threat is seen as the missiles and aircraft. There are now believed to be 1,500 Chinese ballistic missiles within range of Taiwan. These weapons are believed to be the key to Chinese offensive plan, which is based on speed, and getting troops ashore on Taiwan within days by destroying Taiwanese air and naval power.

The key to such a blitz is the Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles. Most of these are based on the coast opposite Taiwan (180 kilometers away across the Taiwan Straits). The Chinese missiles carry one ton or half ton conventional (high explosive or cluster bomb) warheads, and were expected to be used to try and cripple Taiwanese air force and navy, as well as attacking headquarters and communications targets. Almost simultaneously, China would try to invade with airborne and amphibious forces. Without those missiles, Taiwans's qualitatively superior air and naval forces would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the invasion force to cross the straits. China also has over 700 jet warplanes stationed within range of Taiwan, in addition to specialized naval and amphibious forces. While most of the Chinese army is poorly trained and equipped, there are several hundred thousand troops with more modern gear, and training for amphibious operations.

There are various Chinese targeting strategies, and defensive moves the Taiwanese could take. In most cases, Taiwanese planners now believe that the Chinese could succeed. The barrage of missiles can do serious damage to Taiwanese air and naval forces, giving Chinese air and naval forces an opportunity to get ground forces ashore.

 In response to this threat, Taiwan has signed a $154 million contract with a U.S. firm to upgrade the island nations Patriot missile systems. These hardware and software changes will make the Taiwanese Patriot batteries equal in performance to those used by the U.S. Army. That is, the Taiwanese Patriot systems will be able to fire the PAC-3 anti-missile missile, and station the Patriot launchers many kilometers from the system radars. Taiwan has also ordered hundreds of PAC-3 missiles. But even with these improvements, the Chinese still have a good shot at winning a quick victory. Taiwan is looking to deploying its naval and air forces differently, to minimize the effects of the ballistic missiles.

Taiwan, increasingly anxious about this situation, boosted its defense spending by about 15 percent last year (to $10.5 billion). China spends over six times as much on defense, to support about two million troops. Taiwan has only 350,000 troops, and a population of 23 million, compared to 1.3 billion on the mainland. Taiwans's GPD is $650 billion, compared to $2.7 trillion for China. Thus the per capital income of Taiwan is more than ten times that of the mainland. Taiwan's military is based on the American model, with an emphasis on quality. China based its military on the Soviet model (where quantity has a quality all its own), although for decades the emphasis was on mobilizing a huge force of guerillas. Now China is trying to develop a force that can fight on Western terms (high tech operated by well trained troops.)

While many Taiwanese still see the United States as the ultimate guarantor of Taiwanese independence, they see China as increasingly capable of grabbing the island before the U.S. can intervene. So while the Taiwanese don't have to be strong enough to defeat a Chinese invasion, they do have to be strong enough to hold the Chinese back until American reinforcements can show up.

 


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