Sun, Sep 20, 2015 - Page 1 News List

US group outlines Taiwan defense scenarios

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

The US could defend Taiwan from a Chinese military attack, but defeating a Chinese invasion force is likely to become increasingly difficult in coming years, a report from the RAND Corporation said.

“As long as the Chinese economy continues to grow faster than that of the US and Beijing continues to make military modernization a priority, the challenges facing US military planners in Asia will grow more severe over time,” the report said.

The 400-page report was released just one week before Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is to arrive in the US for a state visit and a summit with US President Barack Obama, which might ensure that its contents are given close attention in Beijing.

In the case of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, US commanders would probably be unable to find the basing required for US forces “to prevail in a seven-day campaign,” said the report, titled The US-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography and the Evolving Balance of Power.

It predicts they would prevail in a longer campaign, but this would entail leaving ground and naval forces vulnerable to Chinese air operations.

The report said that given the size and technical sophistication of the US arsenal, together with the accumulated experience and resiliency of its military personnel and commanders, the US remains capable of fighting and winning a protracted air and naval battle against China.

The report examines what RAND analysts consider to be the two most likely war scenarios: an attack on Taiwan and occupation of the disputed Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島).

“The Spratly Islands scenario would be easier, requiring roughly half the forces of the Taiwan scenario,” the report said.

An invasion could be brought about after a more assertive China moves to isolate Taiwan further on the world stage, inadvertently pushing Taipei toward de jure independence, the report said.

Chinese leaders would then decide to occupy the nation by force, prompting Taiwan to appeal for US help, the report said, adding that “given the ambiguous circumstances of conflict, Washington decides to use military force to protect the island.”

The scenario assumes that, as tensions mount, both sides prepare militarily.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could deploy additional combat and support aircraft to the Nanjing Military Region, deploy its most advanced submarines and move forces out of garrison to forward staging areas.

The US might then react by moving additional aircraft and ships to the region and raise alert levels.

Politically, the scenario assumes that the US is allowed to operate freely from bases in Japan, the PLA is permitted to strike US bases in Japan and US forces are allowed to attack nonstrategic targets in China.

The report said little in detail about the role of Republic of China forces in defending Taiwan.

“Taiwanese ability to extend the duration of a contest has a substantial impact,” it said. “To the extent that Taiwan can prolong the duration of the conflict, US force requirements could be eased.”

“It is easier for the US to employ its air and naval power to influence events on the ground in a longer war than in a shorter one. The US should strongly encourage Taiwan to undertake defense reforms that will maximize its odds of avoiding quick defeat,” the report said.

According to the report, China would aim to disrupt US forward operating bases near the conflict zone, primarily through missile strikes, while attempting to sink US aircraft carriers or push back their areas of operation using submarines, missiles and air attacks.

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