Fortress Formosa? Taiwan Strategy Under Attack
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — A recent paper by a professor at the U.S. Naval War College is causing a stir in Taiwan defense circles.
“Revisiting Taiwan’s Defense Strategy,” by William Murray, challenges much of Taiwan’s current symmetrical strategy and debunks the notion that it needs many of the arms it has or is acquiring.
The paper is now required reading by Taiwan’s top brass and the National Security Council.
Murray writes that China’s military modernization has “fundamentally altered Taiwan’s security options.” China, which now has 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) aimed at the island, could knock out Taiwanese airbase runways with just 100 to 200 of the missiles, and cripple its naval bases with just 100 more. These strikes in the initial phase of a conflict would leave fighters and naval vessels on patrol no place to refuel and rearm.
Murray says there is little point in buying the expensive Patriot Advance Capability (PAC)-3 air defense system, diesel submarines and P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. Submarines are nothing more than “four-knot minefields,” and at a cost of $1.5 billion, money best spent elsewhere. A U.S. offer of eight diesel submarines has been on hold since 2001.
Taiwan has 12 P-3s due for delivery in the next three years, and Murray argues they would be valuable for surveillance before an attack, but would have no operational role once the runways were destroyed.
As for its U.S.-built air-defense missiles, Taiwan’s PAC-2s will be able to bring down only 100 to 200 SRBMs.
“Even this would allow over 900 of China’s 2007 inventory of 1,000 SRBMs to arrive unchallenged at their targets,” Murray wrote.
China will no doubt be targeting the air-defense radar with anti-radiation missiles.
“Taiwan would then have to devote SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] to defending the PAC radar, thus reducing the number available for defending airfields, leadership sites, critical infrastructure or other key facilities,” he wrote.
Even the newly purchased PAC-3s would also be “saturated and overwhelmed by large numbers of SRBMs.” Murray suggested that Taiwan develop a “porcupine strategy” to ride out the attack and give the United States time to evaluate its options. This would “shift the responsibility for Taiwan’s defense to Taiwan, rendering U.S. intervention in a cross-strait battle a last resort instead of the first response.”
Rather than expensive PAC-3s, Taiwan should “harden key facilities and build redundancies into critical infrastructure,” allowing the self-governing island to “absorb and survive a long-range precision bombardment,” Murray wrote.
Taiwan has already demonstrated some interest in this strategy with the construction of an elaborate underground airbase at Hualien and the creation of a command-andcontrol facility inside Hengshan Mountain.
Murray also argued that rather than relying on an Air Force armed with ground-attack and anti-ship missiles, which will be unable to take off, Taiwan should buy cheaper and plentiful land-based mobile anti-tank, anti-ship and short-range air defense missiles that could be hidden during the initial phase.
Also, Taiwan should shun the development of SRBMs and land attack cruise missiles, such as the Hsiung Feng 2E. Taiwan missile strikes could be confused with U.S. attacks and provoke Chinese attacks on U.S. bases in Japan and Guam.
Murray favors the recently released 30 AH64D Apache Longbow helicopters, which “would be highly effective in repelling an invasion.” These will join Taiwan’s 60 AH-1W Cobras.
The author also suggests buying truckmounted multiple-launch rocket systems, which could “greatly weaken” any Chinese toeholds. Tanks, artillery and anti-tank weapons would also contribute to island defenses.
Another Murray recommendation: surfzone mines that would “bedevil the planning or execution of any Chinese invasion of Taiwan.” Murray’s thesis has been criticized in defense circles here.
“Fortifications are not a panacea,” said Mei Fu-hsing, director of the Taiwan Defense Review. Taiwan cannot rely simply on bunkers and concealing command-and-control facilities, Mei said; it must maintain air and sea superiority to survive.
“The article appears correct regarding the severe nature of the conventional ballistic challenge,” a former U.S. defense official said.
“However, it assumes a worst-case scenario involving a massive missile assault as a precursor to an amphibious invasion. Next to nuclear annihilation, an amphibious invasion and large-scale missile strikes, it is the least likely scenario for China’s use of force.”
A Taiwan defense official said there was nothing new about Murray’s arguments and the porcupine strategy has been long debated. Murray’s thesis is “too conservative and we should have an offensive missile capability. We already have countermeasure weapons deployed,” he said.
Taiwan is going forward on the production of the HF-2E land attack cruise missile and plans for SRBMs, despite U.S. opposition.