An article published on July 4 in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, titled “Changing Taiwan ocean conditions could affect PLA’s [Chinese People’s Liberation Army] submarines,” cited a report that says increasing volcanic activity on the ocean floor near Japan’s Okinawa Islands has changed the water temperature off the east coast of Taiwan.
The temperature changes have, in turn, had an effect on the Kuroshio Current. The changes could affect submarine operations conducted in the area by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
From Taiwan’s perspective, defensive operations on its east coast could end up fending off attacks from two directions.
Due to the sheer size of the Pacific Ocean off Taiwan’s east coast, if the navy were able to draw its main fighting force into these waters before fighting broke out, and augment the force with a number of indigenous submarines currently under construction, naval commanders would be able to retain influence over dozens of the navy’s surface ships and many of its submarines.
Ships on the east coast could then be used as a standby maritime force that is able to launch a counterattack and, if needed, used to harass and impede PLAN assets in the Pacific Ocean. A naval force amassed on the east coast could also deny access to a PLAN aircraft carrier group and prevent it from attacking Taiwan’s east coast.
Chiashan Air Base (佳山基地) in Hualien County and Chihhang Air Base (志航基地) in Taitung County feature hardened underground facilities carved into a mountainside. If war with China breaks out, a large number of fighter aircraft at air bases on the west coast would be transferred to bases on the east coast in accordance with the military’s “force preservation” strategy.
The remaining aircraft stationed at bases on the west coast and in the south would be tasked as standby aircraft for frontline operations.
The air force views the east coast as inherently valuable in terms of force preservation, but also anticipates operating hand in glove with the navy to counterattack and harass the enemy.
The most effective way to defend Taiwan’s east coast is for the military to deny the PLA the opportunity to land aircraft and parachute in troops. Such an effort by the PLA could happen in two ways: One would involve a large number of helicopters that would fly across the Taiwan Strait carrying special-forces troops. Alternatively, two PLAN Type 072 Yukan-class amphibious landing ships could be tasked off Taiwan’s east coast on standby, which, once air and sea superiority have been achieved, would use their helicopters to conduct rapid attacks against Taiwan’s east coast air bases.
The latter would involve the use of PLA transport aircraft which, once air and sea superiority over Taiwan had been achieved, would be used to insert large quantities of equipment and soldiers by air. This would not only completely cut off reinforcements to Taiwan’s east coast, but could also be used to obstruct US forces rushing to Taiwan’s aid.
These scenarios help us appreciate the vital importance of Taiwan’s east coast to the nation’s defense. The Ministry of National Defense must therefore take steps to enhance the overall defense structure of Taiwan’s east coast. This could include increasing the number of air defense artillery battalions along the coast, deploying more anti-ship missiles, or positioning more electronic countermeasure systems in the field.
Ray Song is a graduate of National Chung Cheng University’s Institute of Strategic and International Affairs.
Translated by Edward Jones
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