Despite the ability of the radar systems deployed by Taiwan’s military to track and engage large numbers of targets simultaneously, Patriot PAC-2 and PAC-3 missile batteries alone would be insufficient to deter China from launching a missile attack, a US specialist wrote.
“Patriot batteries are only one element of a complete missile-defense system,” Ed Ross, a former principal director for security cooperation operations at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and senior director for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mongolia at the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, wrote in the latest issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief.
“The radars have a range of approximately 170 kilometers, insufficient to detect the majority of PRC [People’s Republic of China] missiles in the boost phase [over Chinese territory],” Ross wrote.
Although PAC-3 missiles were specifically designed for missile defense, he wrote, “unless they are tied into an integrated command, control, communications, computers (C4) system that provides for early warning missile detection, tracking and the prioritization of incoming threats, the number of ballistic missiles they are likely to intercept in a large-scale attack would be greatly reduced.”
Ross, currently a consultant for the defense industry, wrote that despite warming ties between Taipei and Beijing, and even as US President Barack Obama’s administration has shown itself reluctant to agree to arms sales to Taiwan, Taiwan is making steady progress in developing a credible missile defense capability to defense against a missile attack by China.
“To be sure, Taiwan will not have all the critical elements in place for a few more years, but major US Foreign Military Sales to Taiwan necessary for a missile--defense system have been approved by [US] Congress, the Letters of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) have been implemented, and contracts with US defense industries have been signed or soon will be,” he wrote. “All that is required, once Taiwan’s recent purchases have been delivered, for it to complete the system is full integration of Taiwan’s Patriot missile firing batteries with its early warning and command and control systems.”
Defense analysts since 2002 have agreed that Taiwan no longer enjoys air superiority in the Taiwan Strait, a development that has added urgency to the need for a missile defense system, Ross wrote.
“How long would it take for China to overcome Taiwan’s air defenses, what loses China would incur in achieving that goal, and how long would it take the US Pacific Fleet to come to Taiwan’s defense are part of a dynamic deterrence equation that has been shifting in China’s favor for at least the past decade,” he wrote.
Although unlikely under the current detente, missile attacks against a Taiwan that suddenly moves toward de facto independence or drags its feet on entering unification talks would be a relatively cost-free means of coercion or punishment, Ross wrote, as other options — from a blockade to military action against Japan and the US — would give the international community more time to prepare a response.
“A missile attack on Taiwan, in the absence of an adequate missile-defense, however, poses little risk for China beyond the international condemnation that would follow,” he wrote.