President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should make maritime-strategic affairs a priority and impose her vision on Taiwan’s naval establishment, a US military expert said.
If Tsai does not take a hard line with the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) it would become increasingly, and dangerously, out of step with the times, said James Holmes, a professor of strategy at the US Naval War College.
“The problem confronting Tsai is largely cultural, although it manifests itself in strategy, doctrine and hardware ill-adapted to today’s dangers,” Holmes said.
He said the ROCN sees itself as a US Navy in miniature — a force destined to win decisive sea battles.
“Despite its self-image, the ROCN is a modest-sized, modestly capable force on the wrong end of an increasingly lopsided arms race against its deadly foe, the China’s People’s Liberation Army [PLA],” he said.
Writing in National Interest magazine, Holmes said that the ROCN’s outlook has resulted in a fleet centered around major surface combatants like guided-missile destroyers, frigates and amphibious transports.
He said that Tsai should rethink plans drawn up under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to build four 10,000-tonne destroyers, 10 to 15 3,000-tonne frigates and replacements for amphibious ships.
Tsai should continue with plans to build four to eight diesel-electric submarines, because they are the “coastal-defense weapon par excellence,” Holmes said.
“How much staying power is a fleet of around 20 ROCN capital ships likely to display in a slugfest against the PLA Navy, a force that musters 96 roughly comparable ships backed by missile-armed subs, fast patrol craft and tactical aircraft along with shore-based anti-ship missiles?” Holmes said, adding that to offset such overpowering odds, Taipei could redirect some money budgeted for major surface combatants into a more lethal, more resilient fleet.
“Specifically, the ROCN should disperse firepower among many stealthy combatants rather than concentrate it in a few large, easy-to-target hulls,” Holmes said.
By waging war asymmetrically, ROCN mariners can threaten to impose “frightful costs” on the PLA Navy in wartime and either repulse a cross-strait invasion altogether or delay it long enough for US reinforcements to fight their way into the combat theater.
“By fielding swarms of small, inexpensive, stealthy fleet-of-foot warships that pack a wallop, navy commanders can bolster the ROCN’s capacity to dish out punishment, while eluding or absorbing enemy counterpunches,” Holmes said.
“Missile-toting fast patrol craft can prowl offshore waters alone or in wolfpacks,” he said. “They can fight in concert with land-based weaponry — mobile anti-ship missile batteries, long-range gunnery and the like — that can strike out to sea.”
“The Taiwanese military can harness the logic of access denial — giving the PLA Navy a grim day should Beijing ordain a cross-strait attack,” he added.
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