Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fire Projection

The Jamestown Foundation's latest China Brief contains an article entitled "The Dragon Breathes Fire: Chinese Power Projection". This addresses some of the issues discussed by Michael Turton and I in our back and forth on China's ability to invade Taiwan.
Some highlights from the article...
On the topic of air superiority:
The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) cannot guarantee air supremacy over the Taiwanese coast, and the PLAN cannot provide even temporary air superiority. So what of a pre-emptive ballistic and cruise missile attack? A pre-emptive strike could conceivably damage many of Taiwan's fixed assets, but would be incapable of destroying enough land assets to stop an amphibious or airborne assault.
On defending against an invasion:
Moreover, the Taiwanese military is aware of the beaches that are suitable for landing craft and have measures and plans in place, including fortified coastal defenses comprising 155mm and 203mm artillery, mobile anti-shipping missiles, and armored forces. Nothing defeats an amphibious landing quicker than an armored counter-attack.
On the PLAN as a blue-water navy:
The PLAN is not just undergoing modernization of its surface and submarine fleet, it is also increasing its numbers of blue water vessels. Furthermore, China is building new conventional and nuclear attack submarines. Although not very effective for supporting an amphibious operation, they give an edge even the largest navies in the region would be hard pressed to match.
Chinese military forces for the next ten years will become formidable by regional standards and capable of a sea control role in the South China Sea. They could be used against Taiwan to isolate the island, as would China's expanding conventional and nuclear attack submarine fleet, but are still vulnerable to coastal defenses, and as there are no aircraft carriers, air strikes as well.
The report concludes with some discussion of the possibility that China may seek to acquire an aircraft carrier in the near to medium-term future. I don't see this happening on the grounds that one aircraft carrier would be putting too many eggs in one basket for a military the size of the PLA.