Meanwhile, a number of smaller, faster and radar-evasive vessels have or are in the process of being equipped with Hsiung Feng-2 (HF-2) and HF-3 anti-ship missiles, with rumors of a longer-range variant of the latter being in development. Additionally, ground-based HF-2E LACMs, which have a range of about 650km, have entered mass production, with deployment at three known sites.
Reports also indicate that Taiwan may be developing a 1,200km missile capable of reaching Shanghai and Beijing. The military has also begun using high mountain ranges in central and northern parts of the country as cover for HF-3 missile bases to make it harder for the Second Artillery to detect and attack them. From such protected positions, Taiwan’s military can lob missiles over the mountains and attack sea vessels in the Taiwan Strait.
Rather than regard its missile force as an instrument of terror with which to attack civilians, Taiwan has focused on developing a counterstrike capability through its LACMs to attack Chinese military bases and infrastructure. Sources say they are confident the military has a good understanding of the weaknesses in the Second Artillery’s command-and-control systems, which could be disabled through LACM attacks. Its investment in anti-radiation missiles to disable Chinese radars along the coast would support such a strategy.
Taiwan also has an active offensive electronic warfare component that could also be used to disable the Second Artillery’s command-and-control architecture, and thereby undermine one of the major components of China’s war strategy against the nation.
All of this is contingent on Taiwan’s radar and missile forces surviving an initial attack by China, which again emphasizes the importance of investing in the first aspect of Taiwan’s defense modernization.
Aside from the high costs of infrastructure and lives associated with strikes against the Second Artillery, doing so would confront Beijing with very difficult choices: either de-escalate and “lose face,” or escalate by using its air force and navy, which greatly increases the likelihood of mass casualties and US (and perhaps Japanese) entry into the conflict (not to mention leaving China exposed on other fronts).
The days of masses of PLA soldiers serving as cannon fodder are gone — the Chinese military today is a slimmer, more technologically intensive force and the training of its soldiers is, like that of other modern armies, increasingly expensive. Chances are, therefore, that Beijing would be very reluctant to launch operations that promise a prohibitive human cost, even for Taiwan and the sake of national “reunification,” a reality that may in fact have been compounded by China’s one-child policy.
Once we reassess what Taiwan can accomplish militarily and combine this with domestic factors in China that mitigate against massive military campaigns, Taiwan’s defense prospects no longer seem so bleak.
The earlier Taiwanese and their allies in the US realize this, the more able they will be to adjust Taiwan’s defense strategy and focus investments where they are needed the most.
What needs to be done does not call for the several billion-dollar investments associated with fifth-generation aircraft or state-of-the-art destroyers.