Mon, Nov 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Richard D. Fisher, Jr. On Taiwan: Asymmetric-symmetric options for air superiority

But if Washington is really interested in helping Taiwan to sustain the air superiority over the Taiwan Strait necessary to deter a PLA invasion, it will also help Taipei to push back the PLA’s increasing number of 200km range, and now 400km range, Russian S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft surface-to-air (SAM) missiles. Without the protection of these SAMs, attacking PLA aircraft would be much more vulnerable to Taiwan’s F-16s armed with large numbers of AAMs.

For example, Taiwan’s Army would like to purchase about 100 BAE Land Systems’ M109A6 Paladin 155mm cannon-armed mobile artillery systems, to replace much older M109s. This purchase is criticized by some well-meaning US defense officials as favoring fewer expensive over more, but less expensive, asymmetric systems.

But new US programs could make the M109 the basis for a significant asymmetric advantage. The US Army is now developing a ramjet-powered 155mm artillery shell that may be capable of a range of 150 kilometers, whereas a conventional shell may only reach 30 to 40km. A 150km range shell could prevent the PLA from launching an amphibious invasion, as its amphibious armored vehicles and hovercraft could not launch from that range.

The US Army is also working on a cannon with a stunning 1,600km range with a shell that may cost US$0.5 million. Even if Washington were to limit the range of such an artillery shell to 500km, roughly the range of a new short-range ballistic missile the US is also developing, it still would enable Taiwan to push back the PLA SAMs in addition to posing a decisive threat to PLA invasion fleets.

While Taiwan is now considering developing a 300km range version of its Thunder 2000 artillery rocket system, Washington is now developing ballistic and cruise missiles with a 500km range and greater, now that it no longer must follow the 500km range limits of the former Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The US should sell or help its allies and partners, like Taiwan, to develop 500km range missiles.

Helping Taiwan achieve new asymmetric capabilities is the key to sustaining deterrence on the Taiwan Strait, but this can also be done by enhancing the symmetric or conventional systems that Taiwan also requires. Doing so will help to counter China’s propaganda goal of instilling fear amongst Taiwanese that a Chinese military conquest is inevitable, which is a key Chinese requirement if its strategies for coercing Taiwan to surrender its freedoms via “Peaceful Reunification” are to succeed.

Richard D. Fisher, Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

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