This year’s Han Kuang military exercises, the most important military event in the nation, for the first time ever completed both stages — the military simulation and live-fire drills — within a month. As was covered in the media, new equipment requirements raised many new issues that are very different from what we have seen before and, with these, there appeared quite a number of new problems. Many of these problems will not be easily resolved.
First was the introduction of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II into the simulations. The Aeronautical Science and Technology Research and Development Center established at the end of last year was originally tasked with the supervision of the policy of developing self-sufficiency in weaponry, as well as the design, research and development of next-generation fighters.
At a media lunch earlier this year, Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) promised to develop a next-generation with short takeoff and landing and radar stealth capabilities.
In addition, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) released in March included a chapter dedicated to the national defense industry, stressing the importance of national defense self-sufficiency.
However, in less than a month, in a question-and-answer session in the legislature, Feng, and in an interview with Reuters, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), separately mentioned the need for US-made F-35s, which also featured in the Han Kuang exercises’ military simulations. This apparent U-turn is quite striking.
Secondly, the exercises featured a “coastal operations” strategy in place of the previous “beach amphibious operation.” Since 2007, the 071 landing platform dock (LPD) has been used in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attack scenarios, with three LPDs deployed in the southern theater and another in the eastern theater. A further two are under construction.
The landers include 726 class landing craft, structurally similar to the US landing craft air cushion (LCAC), as well as the Zubr-class LCAC introduced from Ukraine in 2013.
From transport platforms to landers, the PLA has long had over-the-horizon amphibious operation capability, and simulations in preparation for these have been used in previous Han Kuang exercises on many occasions.
Given that the beach amphibious operation strategy is now considered outdated, what does this say about assurances made in the legislature prior to the military simulation of the military’s capability to repulse an enemy attack along 1,380km of coastline?
The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Defense Policy Blue Paper 5, entitled China’s Military Threats against Taiwan in 2025, issued last year when party was still the opposition includes an analysis of the threat posed by China’s accuracy and diversification of a range of guided missiles, as well as the PLA’s air capabilities and the impact on the Taiwanese military’s defense capabilities after fifth-generation fighters are brought into play, as well as on the PLA’s ability to suppress Taiwan with its surface, underwater and air attack forces.
In the DPP’s Defense Policy Blue Paper 9, entitled Taiwan’s Military Capacities in 2025, a response strategy was proposed. This could well be worth reviewing as a way to prepare for the defense of Taiwan and Penghu, and an assessment of the military equipment being constructed if the text of the paper — which would have trouble conveying the immediacy and deafening chaos of anti-blockade and landing-denial operations — can be applied to scenarios to be used in military simulations and live-fire drills using actual soldiers, to verify the viability of the proposals for ensuring military balance across the Taiwan Strait.
The arrangement of the chapters in the QDR is slightly different from that of previous editions, and the strategic philosophy has changed from the “effective deterrence” of past issues to “multiple deterrence.”
Nevertheless, looking over this year’s Han Kuang military exercises, whether it be in terms of the military equipment demands demonstrated in the military simulations or the strategic changes suggested over the course of the live-fire drills, the powers-that-be in the defense ministry long ago made up their minds about what was needed. For them, the military simulations and live-fire drills were mere procedural necessities.
At a joint graduation ceremony of the nation’s military academies and universities last year, Tsai spoke of the need for military reform, to rid the system of inefficient and wasteful utilization of time and labor resources, and set out to change this culture with a “new military strategy.”
However, now it seems that the old habits of the military — such as holding on to predetermined conclusions and privileges of rank — die hard.
We are still at the beginning of reform and have yet to make that first step.
Lu Li-shih is a former instructor at the Republic of China Naval Academy and a former captain of the ROCS Sing Chiang.
Translated by Lin Lee-Kai
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