ROCA Force Quality
SUMMARY: Taiwan Army's technological advantage has eroded, but its personnel advantage remains. China’s ability to project power, and thus achieve local preponderance, has improved but remains insufficient. Taiwan should take measures to maximize its personnel advantage while working to achieve technological parity. END SUMMARY
Taiwan is constantly under threat of attack by the People's Republic of China (PRC) but has not seen sustained combat in over a half century. In the absence of combat, the best measures the potency of Taiwan's army are its ability to achieve a preponderance of force relative to an invading force, the technological sophistication of its advanced weapons systems--particularly armor, and force quality. Its military effectiveness will be considered relative to the forces of an invading People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Naval and air forces will not be evaluated with the exception of China's ability to use its naval and air forces to project ground forces, which is central to evaluating the PLA's ability to achieve a favorable local force ratio.
The PLA has 1.6 million soldiers on active duty, eight-times the number of Taiwan (The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2005, 43). The PRC is unlikely, however, to be able to turn that overall advantage into a favorable local force ratio in an invasion of Taiwan. Michael O'Hanlon, who has conducted the most extensive unclassified analysis of the subject to date, has concluded that China would be unable to establish a beachhead on Taiwan ("Why China Can't Conquer Taiwan," 68-69). His estimates are somewhat dated, but his estimate that China would be able to project no more than 15,000 men (with equipment) by sea and 6,000 by air provide a good starting point for analysis (Ibid, 62). Even minimal advance notice of attack would allow Taiwan to station its forces at the relatively few areas of its western shore where China could land forces, guaranteeing Taiwan local force ratios in its favor. Additionally, even if the PLA somehow proved able to gain a foothold in Taiwan, Taiwan’s army could be reinforced at least five times as fast as the PLA (Ibid, 68-9). Therefore, due to proximity of reinforcements to the conflict, Taiwan can expect to have numerical preponderance in any conflict on the island.
As discussed above, China is unlikely to get a sizable force ashore. Were it to do so, however, PLA forces would try to expand their area of control as quickly as possible and attempt to break out of Taiwan’s containment. Tanks would be vital to exploiting any hole that the PLA forces were able to open up in Taiwan’s defenses and therefore a comparison of the armored forces of the two nations is relevant.
Taiwan’s best tank is the M60A3 Patton main battle tank, which is comparable to the Russian-made T-72. Estimates as to the number of M60A3s in service in Taiwan’s Army vary (A,B) but average to approximately 430. Taiwan also has approximately 550 M48 Pattons and variants (specifically the CM11 and CM12) and 675 M-41 and M-41D Walker Bulldogs, which are being phased out of service.
The PLA would employ its Type 99 amphibious tank in an invasion, which is a seriously modified Type 63 tank that is sometimes designated the Type 63A-1. Due to confusion with the designations, the total number of this particular model are unknown but China’s limited number of tank landing ships (20) makes the total number of Type 99s irrelevant (Military Power, 43).
In a head-to-head tank battle, the lighter, faster, and more powerful Type 99 would have the advantage over the much older Patton. Without information about the location of the Chinese invasion, any estimate of what local armor ratio could be expected would be unreliable. Due to the warning time that Taiwan would have in any invasion and the size of the island, Taiwan could expect to have a large enough numerical advantage to negate any technological advances possessed by the Type 99.
The Taiwan Army has numerous force quality deficiencies. Most important is the lack of initiative on the part of its tactical leadership. Company-grade officers and below are given little or no opportunity to make leadership decisions unsupervised. The failure of more senior officers to delegate meaningful tasks to subordinates results in lieutenants and captains spending their days on tasks that should be accomplished by enlisted personnel. Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) are often treated like children and assumed by officers to be incapable of even the most basic of tasks without supervision. The paucity of tactical leadership, combined with the scripted nature of military exercises, casts serious doubt on Taiwan’s ability to carry out the modern system of force employment.
The second largest problem plaguing Taiwan's army is poor morale as a result of being a conscription-based force. This problem is complicated by the low regard that Taiwan's citizens hold for army officers and men. Many conscript soldiers predictably view military service as a nuisance to be completed with as little effort as possible. A general conception that Taiwan has no hope of success in a war with China also undermines any esprit de corps that develops. Additional concerns are poor maintenance, a failure to integrate warning systems into the core military communication system, and stovepiping in both training and acquisition.
China’s military exhibits all of the aforementioned deficiencies and more. Michael O’Hanlon summarizes the quality of the men of the PLA as follows:
Although Chinese military personnel are generally competent at basic infantry skills, the armed forces do not tend to attract China's best, nepotism is prevalent, party loyalty is of paramount importance, most soldiers are semiliterate peasants serving short tours of duty, and a strong professional noncommissioned officer corps is lacking. 
The primary difference between the two forces is the quality of training. The training of the Chinese military has been described as ranging "from spotty to poor." Taiwan’s forces, on the other hand, train to Western standards under a cadre of American educated and trained officers and NCOs. They are generally considered to be proficient at the application of military force with the exceptions noted above.
In an invasion of Taiwan by the People's Liberation Army, Taiwan can expect to have theater and local numerical superiority in both infantry and armor. Taiwan’s advantages in numbers and training will likely compensate for any pockets of excellence enjoyed by the Chinese, such as deadlier tanks. Taiwan could expect to extract a heavy cost from an invading Chinese army and emerge victorious.
Recommended Course of Action
Taiwan should address its deficiencies in force quality to maximize its advantage in this area. Taiwan's egalitarian and democratic government give it a comparative advantage in force quality that, to date, it has not sought to maximize. Specifically, Taiwan should take steps to empower its junior officers and maximize the influence of its NCOs through changes in training and task delegation. China's autocratic regime makes it much harder for the Communist leadership to entrust its tactical leadership with equivalent duties. This course of action will provide the ROC Army with the increased flexibility that delegation of decisions offers and generally maximize the utilization of its human capital. This modernization can be enacted by changes in education and Army culture with little or no financial cost to the army.*
Additionally, Taiwan should continue to modernize its weapon systems, including its armor forces, as funding is available. There is no reason to cede the technological advantage to China when the distances involved should provide Taiwan with the advantage in heavy forces. Increased focus on anti-tank weapons or more advanced tanks would help address this weakness at minimal cost.
Taiwan’s preponderance of forces is deemed sufficient. No increase is recommended, although drilling must be conducted regularly to ensure the ability to rapidly mobilize and deploy reserve forces.
*Army culture is often characterized as resistant to change. In fact, it proves to be extremely malleable when rules and customs for promotion are altered. When an officer’s delegation of tasks and the capabilities of his subordinates become part of fitness reports for promotion, the culture will follow.