Friday, July 08, 2005

War in the Taiwan Straits: A Rebuttal (Part I)

The View From Taiwan's Michael Turton has written a fascinating piece countering those who have recently expended so much energy countering Bill Gertz (Asiapundit has the anti-Gertz roundup here).

Turton makes some quite controversial assertions in his post, which I will address here. Before you read any further, if you haven't followed the second link above and read his post, please do so now. While I will post a few excerpts to be evaluated individually, such short samples cannot do justice to his post. I will respond to his article's ample assertions in two posts. This post will respond specifically to his update and his comments about an amphibious landing on Taiwan. The second post (available here) will address the body of his post.

Size of the Invasion Force
In the update to his post, he cites my criticisms of Gertz and David Shambaugh's Modernizing China's Military, which I cite in that post.
People read the possibilities by projecting US logistical behavior and demands onto the siutation. But the US army is like eccentric old woman who, wherever she goes, takes her 38 suitcases with her.
The figure offered by Shambaugh is not based on the US Army alone but a figure commonly used my military strategists as a starting point for amphibious invasions. The amount of variation up or down from that initial 5:1 ratio is METT-T dependent.
The idea that anyone would plan to invade Taiwan with 1.25 million men all at once is absurd. The 5:1 formula is not total national strength but forces at the point of attack.
It is correct that a 5:1 formula need only apply to the defenders at the point of attack. Considering Taiwan's 3.8 million man reserves could be rapidly mobilized to such locations (especially considering the ample advanced warning and the predictability of where they will land), China would likely need more, not less than the number originally cited by Shambaugh to get a significant foothold.

Air Superiority
Since China would not throw troops over without control of the air...
If this clause is accurate, then we can conclude that China will not invade as China does not currently have the fighters needed to accomplish this task. The ROCAF has air superiority over the strait and will maintain it in the near term.

The ROCAF's air superiority is due to a significant qualitative advantage over the PLAAF (and PLANAF). While China maintains an overall quantitative advantage, that counts all Chinese aircraft, not just those stationed in the Taiwan theater (defined as the Nanjing and Guangzhou Military Regions). According to Shambaugh, only about 1,600 of the PLAAF's 2,748 fighters are located within 500 nm of Taiwan (MCM, 154). Any attempt to reposition other fighters closer to Taiwan ahead of time would certainly give away China's intention long before hand. Thus while China could theoretically acquire air superiority days or weeks into a war with Taiwan, it will certainly not have it at the initiation of conflict.

Since China would not throw troops over without control of the air, the actual situation would be one where PRC troops can move over even on small craft -- commandeered fishing craft -- to reinforce a beachhead, while movement toward the beachhead by Taiwan forces is interdicted by Chinese aircraft (helped by sleepers and sabotuers). Shambuagh writes as though the Chinese are really going to invade Taiwan by formula, with overwhelming force, like the Americans would. The Chinese can improvise.
That China will employ fishing boats is a common claim of those that feel China can invade Taiwan despite its pathetic power projection capabilities. This has been tried on Kinmen Island (Quemoy), which is only two kilometers from the closest Chinese soil. As the PLA learned in 1949, improvising can be a bad idea. Conventional wisdom says you should invade with a sizable numerical advantage at the point of attack (as mentioned above) and should soon be reinforced by heavy infantry and armor. China, however, had no need for such conventional wisdom and saw fit to invade the tiny island with light infantry brought over on fishing boats.
The result of the aforementioned Battle of Kuningtou: Kinmen Island is still very much part of the ROC and the PLA invaders that survived the brief battle surrendered en masse to the ROC Army forces. (For those seeking a list of excuses as to why the Communists lost, see this article cited by Turton.) The communists were able to take Hainan the following year because they followed the old paradigm more closely. They, unlike all of the pundits that argue fishing boats will make the difference, learned their lessons.

The situation in 2005 is obviously not that of 1949, but Taiwan (100 km away) and Kinmen (2 km away) are also not the same island. The distance, when combined with Taiwan's current early warning capabilities, guarantees China could not have the element of surprise (as they did at Hainan). The question is whether Taiwan's advanced notice will be a week or a month.
If a significant number of China's landing craft and troop transport craft survive a trip across the strait (and this is a big 'if'), resupply and reinforcement will be so far apart that the ROCA will have plenty of time to slaughter the first wave before the second wave has even left the mainland. In addition to falling prey to the ROCAF, they will have to cruise by Kinmen, Matsu, and Penghu, where they will certainly come under attack by ROC forces stationed there.

Turton asserts:
China can get troops across in hours -- the Strait is only 100 kms wide. What would happen if China got troops across, in good organization, and supported by air power, and kept them there for a few days?
This hypothetical is implausible since China wouldn't have air superiority (see above) and the troops wouldn't be in very good shape considering the sea sickness (mentioned in the China Defense article) and disorder caused by putting troops haphazardly on confiscated fishing boats. The answer to this question, however, is Kuningtou (the name of the battle on Kinmen previously referenced). The Chinese troops would come ashore underarmed and be slaughtered en masse before reinforcements could arrive.

According to Shambaugh:
At the shortest distance, the Strait takes roughly ten hours to cross. (MCM, 326)
That puts 20 hours (best case scenario) between wave one and wave two (which will be smaller than wave one due to attrition of vessels). I wouldn't bet much on there still being any remnants of wave one alive by the time wave two arrived, especially since the invaders will have no artillery or naval gun support (the former due to distance and the latter is rightfully ruled out in the China Defense article cited above).

Anyone planning to throw caution into the wind and 'improvise' would be well advised to study previous improvised battles like Kuningtou. Heavy infantry and armor have always defeated light infantry and as there aren't too many fishing boats that can hold even China's lightest tank (the T-99), China would once again be limited to light infantry. One could argue that a huge numerical superiority in favor of the invading light infantry could overturn that heavy-light paradigm but Turton has already ruled out invading with such a force. Likewise, saturation by land or naval artillery could help to overcome a small numerical inferiority, but PLA invaders will have neither.


China cannot invade Taiwan.