China and Taiwan

And the element of surprise

It’s getting a lot of press of late. The idea that China might actually invade Taiwan some time in the not too far off future and reclaim its “inalienable right” to reunification. Say what you will about the merits or otherwise of this, but for this argument, it probably good to have a look at the logisitcs and possible timing, and make a guess as to when this is likely to to happen.

To be clear, I think it is imminent. 2021. And here are the reasons why, and then after that I’ll get into how.

A) Beefing up defenses. Taiwant has embarked on a major upgrade to their military. In the previous 2 US administrations, 37 defence deals have been signed with the US:

20 of those were with the previous term under President Trump. Defense deals dont happen quickly, and neither do the deliveries. Look closely at the differences however between what Obama sold and what Trump sold Taiwan and there is a big difference. Obama sold a lot of lighter munitions, transports, support euipment and so on. Trump sold weapons that can inflict massive damage on any invading force – 100’s of Harpoon missiles, armed drones, anti-radiation missles for attacking surface to air missile sites, Main battle tanks, F-16s, artillery systems etc – all with the express purpose of making any invasion from the PRC as difficult as possible. When these systems are in place and operational, this will significantly raise the cost of invasion in both cost and lives and may fully deter any invader once these (and other purchases such as submarines which are being indigenously developed) are in place. The window for a successfuly military campaign against Taiwan from China is not closing fully but it is narrowing.

B) Distraction from other countries with regards to the pandemic. The US has an internal crisis on its hands. Whether you believe the extent to which the media have portrayed it, even by the best scenario, they are weakened, both economically and administratevely. This is not lost of the Chinese who realise full well that the US sometime before the end of this year will be fast on the track to recovery and in a far better position to respond to external issues like say an invasion of Taiwan.

As Captain Jim Fanell, senior US Naval Intelligence offcer points out, the next 10 years is going to be the most dangerous in terms of the west vs China.

The CCP has committed to the reunification of Taiwan by 2049, which is the 100th anniversary of the takeover of China by Mao. As Fanell points out, there will have to be a bedding in period of around 10 years for the world to accept that any successful invasion of Taiwan is a done deal – whether it leads to WW3 or simply just a realignment, it will take time. So he states specifically that the period of 2020-2030 is the most strategically difficult time in terms of what China might do.

C) Other fronts. China hasn’t exactly been quiet on the Indian front either. And neither has India. That window is closing and is one I dont think will reopen. The Indians are buying a lot of S400 SAM batteries and they are amongst the best, if not the actual best. China cant play attrition here and the Himalayas are naotriously difficult to get the tremdenous amounts of men and materiel across to supply any real incursion. They can and do use their proxy of Pakistan to upset the balance there as well as their usual salami slicing land grabs in Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh (the Tibetan 5-finger strategy of Mao). They just need to keep the Indians off balance there, but that wont last forever. Far bigger problems are coming shortly when they start to dam the Brahmaputra in a major way – and that is now in the initial stages of construction – that will have a massive impact on any downstream countries as they can basically cause droughts or flooding at will, and you know with the Chinese, any leverage, not matter how unpalatable, is employed. They are not worried about the Indians but they just want to keep the chain wrapped around their necks and give it a yank from time to time. Their main focus is on Taiwan.

Now to how.

This is the important part – getting 100’s of thousands across the strait, opening and maintaining supply lines and keeping any counter attack and internal insurrection at bay.

Can the element of surprise for such a massive invasion fleet be maintained? I would argue that to some degree that yes, it could, right up until the last second. Here’s how.

Sailing an amphibious landing force over the taiwan strait requires meticulous planning and would be known about well in advance – it would be immediately obvious to intelligence forces by way of satellite imagery. Staging continual drills in the area however lower the level of attentiveness of anyone looking in. Keep these drills going, keep aircraft flying to practise sorties and you do 2 things – first you try and wear the other guy out (you are simultaneously being worn out, so its hardly like you’re gaining anything there, but that isn’t actually the point), you keep attention on these points from any foreign intelligence, and in the background you marshall your troops. I do think a sea invasion will happen, and you have 2 windows to do that – May and October, but I dont think that is where the initial invasion will come from. Look for things to be happening in the days before an amphibious force can mount – I think to try and put an element of surprise in the initial attack will come from a totally different source, probably by way of civillian airliners. You’re not going to start shooting those down until its too late, by which time the invasion has begun and Beijing will be seeking to blind you.If you can land 90 planes quickly, you can get 30000 troops on the ground in hours and in places the Taiwanese government, thats 330 per plane and loaded with days worth of munitions and food, heading directly into urban conflict in the midst of a civilian population. Not the invasion Taiwan is expecting and a much more difficult style of invasion to defend against. And then, having cargo ships at sea, not packed with exports but dummies with further supplies and munitions as well as tanks and motorised units, having those east of Taiwan and immediately doubling back towards Taiwan, essentially attacking from the opposite direction that any conventional force land from, the defenses would be significantly lower.

You’ll want to keep the US out of the fray too, so blanketing the area with A2/AD assets and taking out a couple of foreign military vessels with a couple of DF-21s would be a massive deterent, if not an assassin’s mace style of blinding attack on the US itself – not a straight out attack, but something to cripple either key infrastructure or military response capability to keep them at bay, and then work to establish the facts on the ground as rapidly as possible, looks to be the most likely scenario that I can think of.

But hey – I am just an armchair general in a ricketty old recliner. What on earth would I know…