Monday, November 21, 2005

No Magic Bullet

When you consider that NATO's air assault on rump Yugoslavia in 1999 required about eleven weeks to convince Belgrade to capitulate (and I remain perplexed as to why the Serbs gave up since the damage done was minimal), I am amazed that some think that a Chinese missile barrage could defeat Taiwan.

Via Mad Minerva I read this analysis by MeiZhongTai of China's missile arsenal pointed at Taiwan that questions just how effective they would be:

Simply put, the combined warhead capacity of 467 CSS-6 and CSS-7 SRBMs (1,100 pounds each) is the equivalent of only 9.5 Vietnam era B-52 sorties (54,000 pounds each). Even if all 700 SRBMs were used and all reached their targets, it would only equal 14 sorties. To look at it another way, the 700 SRBMs would only total 385 tons of high explosives, compared with the hundreds of thousands of tons dropped on Vietnam, for example.

The technical analysis of how many missiles would hit after considering strategy, dud rates, accuracy, and missile defenses is beyond my knowledge base, quite honestly. But these are reasonable assumptions, it seems.

I do think, however, that the assumption that three batteries of Patriots could throw out 200 anti-missiles to stop a surge attack is way too optimistic.

Still, I think the point that this one-dimensional threat could not bring Taiwan to its knees is accurate regardless of the number that will hit their targets. Either the Chinese shoot their bolt all at once and it is over fast and the Taiwanese quickly realize they survived; or the missiles dribble in over weeks or months in a psychological warfare campaign--in which case the Taiwanese Patriots get to shoot a lot, the US sends in visible resupply, and US and/or Japanese warships get in position to help shoot down the Chinese missiles. Really, this would be a cheap victory for the US and Japan as well as Taiwan. Indeed, the missile campaign might prompt Taiwan to make up for long neglect of its defenses by showing that China really will attack.

And if the Taiwanese send a submarine or some planes out into the Strait to scatter some mines in response, the economic dislocation just from increased insurance costs for shipping would harm China as much as the missiles fired would harm Taiwan, I think.

So forget about the Chinese missiles as some potent force that could cripple Taiwan. short of putting nukes, chemicals, or bio weapons on them, they will just make loud booms for the evening news. Heck, even chemicals wouldn't, on their own, do a lot of harm.

Of course, this unfortunately means that using the missiles only really makes sense in a full-scale assault on the island.