Taiwan's first Quadrennial Defence Review, released on Monday (March 16), took a harder line against China's military threat than expected, given the warming cross-strait relations. The island plans to cut troop numbers by a fifth and opt for an all-professional army by 2014, by ending conscription. It is trading numbers for better technology, including advanced information warfare capabilities. It is developing a doctrine of asymmetric warfare as the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has tilted in China's favour.
Crucially, the defence review put paid to speculation that China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou planned to adopt a 'porcupine' strategy of focusing on defence against a ground assault by strengthening Taiwan's army and civil defences. This would have meant giving up its longstanding strategy of deterring an attack by maintaining air and sea superiority. The paper did not play down the importance of the navy and air force, and defence officials said at a press conference that Taipei would ask again to buy F-16 fighters from the United States. Washington had turned down such a request just last year.
The defence review shows that Taiwan has no illusions about China's intentions despite the considerable easing of tension after Ma, of the Kuomintang, came to power.
The asymmetric warfare refers to the ability to take the war to the mainland rather than fight over and on Taiwan. Cruise missiles and long-range precision weapons carried by aircraft would be key. They could strike PLA bases to disrupt the Chinese offensive. Well-trained and equipped troops are still key to counter-attacking any PLA footholds on Taiwan established by air- or sea-delivered means, but hammering the PLA as it approaches Taiwan is key to buying time--both for the Taiwanese to mobilize and deploy and for America and Japan to decide to intervene and reach Taiwan in strength.
And I still think Taiwan needs modern submarines as part of an asymmetric military threat to China.
This report is a bit of encouragement for me, in the midst of apparent idiocy on the issue of China's intentions toward Taiwan.
UPDATE: Strategypage sets for the basics as I've long discussed:
The Taiwanese government is increasing defense spending, including the development of more locally made weapons (like cruise missiles to take out targets on the mainland.) Chinese pressure on the U.S. caused Taiwan's recent request to buy 60 F-16 fighters, to be turned down. Taiwan wants to increase its military capability because its arrangement with the United States requires that Taiwan be strong enough to hold off a Chinese attack long enough for American forces to arrive. This means keeping control of air bases on the island for up to a week. China is apparently building up its land, air and naval forces to the point where a surprise attack could conquer Taiwan in a few days, if the defending Taiwanese were not ready.
There is still a problem with this Taiwanese strategy. And that's aside from whether the Chinese don't need a week or whether a week is sufficient time for the American government to decide to intervene and then get forces to Taiwan in time to make a difference.
The problem is that a strategy of buying time usually buys that time with the currency of real estate. That is, you fall back to keep your forces intact and make sure the enemy must advance slowly to deal with your still-functioning forces.
So even if the Taiwanese successfully buy that time, doesn't this mean that the PLA is entrenched on parts of Taiwan? Doesn't this mean we have a new status quo on the island with two armies contesting the same real estate?
Which means that the initial attack was just the softening up phase to prepare for the real killing blow, that will fall at a later date. And my solution still assumes we keep China off the main island. This is the problem of basing a defense not on defeating the enemy but just slowing them down. Slowing the enemy down just means it takes them longer to get where they are going.