The US military believes that China is developing “growing confidence” that it can deal with or deter US intervention if Beijing attacks Taiwan.
It was also revealed in testimony before a congressional commission that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) appears to have a “more mature viewpoint” on military operations against the US.
“This means that, during a major campaign, the PLA will look to focus its operations primarily against Taiwan — or other adversary — and look to deter US intervention or limit the effects of the intervention,” Lee Fuell, technical director for force modernization at the US Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center, told a hearing of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in Washington.
Fuell said the two large-scale campaigns against Taiwan most often mentioned by the PLA were blockade or invasion.
During a blockade, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) would strike Taiwan’s airfields, ground-based air defenses, coastal defense cruise missiles and C4ISR (command, control, communication, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) facilities, he said.
It would also enforce a “no-fly zone” around the island.
“The airstrikes would be preceded by missile attacks by the Second Artillery, as well as cyberattacks, special operations and other unconventional warfare,” Fuell said.
The PLAAF would attack Taiwan’s command capabilities and provide some level of air cover for PLA Navy operations.
Fuell and Jesse Karotkin, a senior intelligence officer for China at the US Office of Naval Intelligence, together provided a rare glimpse into just how Washington perceives Chinese military thinking.
An invasion of Taiwan would require the PLAAF to provide air cover to the amphibious units as they transit the Taiwan Strait as well as to strike Taiwanese forces in support of “on-island” operations, Fuell told the hearing.
“This on-island support would not likely be US-style close air support, but rather pre-planned air interdiction attacks against Taiwan forces,” he said.
“An island invasion would include airborne operations, probably designed to secure a Taiwan airfield or other important facility,” he said.
Chinese military responses to US intervention in the case of Taiwan or South China Sea conflicts would strike a balance between supporting the main campaign by deterring the enemy and striking at them if necessary “with the need to avoid an expansion of the conflict,” Fuell said.
He said it reflected a departure from past Chinese military thinking that focused heavily on the need for pre-emptive operations against US intervention.
“We feel this demonstrates, at least to a degree, a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more readily withstand US involvement than in past years,” he said.
“This isn’t to say the PRC might not still feel compelled to conduct pre-emptive actions against US intervention, particularly in the cyberdomain or other less kinetic ways,” he said.
Should China decide US intervention was having a significant impact on its campaign, the PLAAF and Second Artillery would be ordered to strike US forces and facilities, he said.
Fuell said that more than 500 combat aircraft operate from permanent bases which give them the ability to conduct operations in and around Taiwan without aerial refueling.
Karotkin said the PRC viewed unification with Taiwan as an “immutable long-term” goal and hoped to prevent the US from intervening in a Taiwan scenario.
“While Taiwan remains a top-tier priority, the PLA is simultaneously focusing resources on a growing array of potential challenges,” he said.
“In the event of a crisis, the PLA has a variety of options to defend its claimed territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” Karotkin said.
The Chinese navy was strengthening its ability to execute a range of regional missions in a “complex electromagnetic environment” as it also laid a foundation for sustained blue water operations, he said.
“Over the next decade, China will complete its transition from a coastal navy to a navy capable of multiple missions around the world,” Karatkin said.