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STRATEGIC VISION Volume 1, Issue 5



for Taiwan Security

September, 2012


ISSN 2227-3646


China’s Hard Line and Stronger Security Ties Aaron Jensen _______________________ Island Disputes and Maritime Instability Dr. Chia-sheng Chen _______________________ China’s Blue-Water Aims and the US Response Dr. John Schmeidel _______________________ Leveraging the South China Sea Dilemma Edward Hsieh _______________________ ROC Navy and the War of the Flea J. Michael Cole _______________________ Taiwan’s Force-Planning Dilemma Chihlung Dan

STRATEGIC VISION Volume 1, Issue 5

for Taiwan Security w

September, 2012

Contents China’s hard line results in regional security ties.....................................4

Aaron Jensen

Island disputes lead to maritime insecurity.................................................8

Dr. Chia-sheng Chen

US Navy ponders China’s blue-water ambitions......................................12

Dr. John Schmeidel

Leveraging the South China Sea dilemma.................................................16

Edward Hsieh

ROC Navy eyes ‘war of the flea’ option.........................................................20

J. Michael Cole

Littoral or high seas: a force-planning dilemma......................................24

Chihlung Dan

Submissions: Essays submitted for publication are not to exceed 2,000 words in length, and should conform to the following basic format for each 1200-1600 word essay: 1. Synopsis, 100-200 words; 2. Background description, 100-200 words; 3. Analysis, 800-1,000 words; 4. Policy Recommendations, 200-300 words. Book reviews should not exceed 1,200 words in length. Notes should be formatted as endnotes and should be kept to a minimum. Authors are encouraged to submit essays and reviews as attachments to emails; Microsoft Word documents are preferred. For questions of style and usage, writers should consult the Chicago Manual of Style. Authors of unsolicited manuscripts are encouraged to consult with the executive editor at before formal submission via email. Manuscripts are subject to copyediting, both mechanical and substantive, as required and according to editorial guidelines. No major alterations may be made by an author once the type has been set. Arrangements for reprints should be made with the editor. The retouched photograph of the USS Enterprise on the cover is a public-domain image used courtesy of photographer Petty Officer 3rd Class Brooks B. Patton.

Editor Fu-Kuo Liu Executive Editor Dean Karalekas Editorial Board Tiehlin Yen Raviprasad Narayanan Ming-Hua Tang Felix Wang STRATEGIC VISION For Taiwan Security (ISSN 2227-3646) Volume 1, Number 5, September, 2012, published under the auspices of the Center for Security Studies and National Defense University. All editorial correspondence should be mailed to the editor at STRATEGIC VISION, Center for Security Studies in Taiwan. No. 64, Wan Shou Road, Taipei City 11666, Taiwan, ROC. The editors are responsible for the selection and acceptance of articles; responsibility for opinions expressed and accuracy of facts in articles published rests solely with individual authors. The editors are not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts; unaccepted manuscripts will be returned if accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed return envelope. Photographs used in this publication are used courtesy of the photographers, or through a creative commons licence. All are attributed appropriately. Any inquiries please contact the Executive Editor directly via email at: issues and archives can be viewed at our website: © Copyright 2012 by the Center for Security Studies. Articles in this periodical do not necessarily represent the views of either the MCSS, NDU, or the editors.

From The Editor


n behalf of the editorial team here at Strategic Vision, I am proud to bring you this, our latest edition. This is a special issue, as it is produced in conjunction with the ROC 2012 International Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) Conference sponsored by our partners at National Defense University. In honor of this important conference, this issue is devoted to littoral security of the Asia-Pacific region. All of our writers have been asked to contribute articles analyzing the complex maritime issues that face governments in Asia— an important topic especially now when tensions are flaring up over various disputed islands and reefs in South China and East China seas. Aaron Jensen begins with an analysis of a recent trend among the region’s middle powers of growing closer in terms of regional security ties, and how this has been largely a reaction to increasingly assertive moves on the part of China, at least when it comes to safeguarding what Beijing considers its sovereignty over the disputed islands in the region’s waters. Dr. Chia-sheng Chen takes a closer look at those disputes, and how they have contributed to greater maritime instability in the region. There are several factors driving the uptick in tensions, not the least of which are the thorny issues of competing conceptions of nationalism among the claimant nations, the dire need for the natural resources that are part and parcel of territorial rights, and the fear that freedom of navigation through these shared waters will be put at risk if a peaceful solution is not found. Dr. John Schmeidel examines the recent buildup of the People’s Liberation Army Navy and the challenges that this holds for the region’s security guarantor, the US Navy, while Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hsieh looks at the forces defining maritime tensions in the region, including the US pivot to Asia and China’s diplomatic blockade of Taiwan, and suggests that a solution could be found with a little bold diplomacy on Taipei’s part. J. Michael Cole offers his analysis of how an increasingly wellequipped and capable Chinese Navy has forced the ROC Navy to respond by thinking smaller, a “war of the flea” option. Likewise, Rear Admiral Chihlung Dan analyzes the force-planning options open to Taipei given the realities of Chinese naval development. We would like to express our most sincere welcome to the guests attending the SLOC conference, and hope all of our readers enjoy this latest issue. Dr. Fu-Kuo Liu Editor Strategic Vision

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Strategic Vision vol. 1, no. 5 (September, 2012)

Hang Together

Growing regional security ties seen as a reaction to China’s hardline stance Aaron Jensen


ithin the last year, a number of nations in the Asia-Pacific region have held dialogues and signed agreements to boost mutual security, particularly littoral security. The driving force behind this activity is mutual concern over China’s aggressive maritime claims and actions. What is also significant about these agreements is that many of them do not include the United States. While the United States has recently worked to promote greater military interaction among its Asian allies, these nations have become concerned enough that they are now moving beyond US-led ef-

forts and are reaching out to each other to enhance mutual security. When considering the matter of security, national and military leaders must evaluate the capability and intent of powerful regional actors. With respect to both these factors, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has recently given its neighbors much cause for concern. With regard to naval capability, China’s buildup is well publicized; a recently launched aircraft carrier, a new line of attack and ballistic missile submarines, the purchase of Russian Sovremennyclass destroyers, and the construction of new am-

photo: Marc-Andre Gaudreault A rescue swimmer from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 4 (Black Knights) is hoisted on board a US Navy MH-60S Sea Hawk during RIMPAC 2012.

Aaron Jensen is a graduate student at National Chengchi University who served as an officer in the United States Air Force for seven years. He can be reached at:

Regional Cooperation  b  5

photo: Daniel Barker A Landing Craft Air Cushion assigned to Assault Craft Unit 5 departs the amphibious assault ship USS Essex during the Rim of the Pacific exercise 2012.

phibious assault ships give China’s navy considerable punch. Also important, but much less discussed, is China’s large and expanding fleet of maritime security vessels. Spread over several administrations, these paramilitary ships take the lead role in maintaining China’s maritime interests near its coastal areas. The two administrations most frequently involved in international maritime disputes, the China Marine Surveillance Administration and the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command, boast a combined fleet of 2,300 vessels and 44,000 personnel, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported. Some of the larger ships in these administrations are armed and carry helicopters.

Vigorous claims With regard to intentions, the PRC’s actions in contentious areas like the South China Sea suggest that Beijing will vigorously back its maritime claims. China regularly challenges and harasses Vietnamese and Philippine vessels operating within their own exclusive economic zones (EEZs), especially if these ships are involved in operations relating to natural re-

source development. Recently, the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) publically announced that it was opening several large oil exploration blocks in the South China Sea—blocks are located almost entirely within Vietnam’s EEZ. Finally, China has a history of using military force to achieve its objectives in disputed maritime areas. In 1974, China attacked and expelled Vietnam from the Paracel Islands. In 1988, China and Vietnam engaged in naval combat near Fiery Cross Reef. In light of China’s actions and past history, nations which have maritime disputes with China cannot discount potential PRC use of military force. Even nations which have no direct maritime disputes with China still have cause for concern over Beijing’s future intentions in areas such as the South China Sea. China, like other nations in the region, is seeking to develop land features in the South China Sea so that Beijing could then claim that its occupied outposts are inhabitable islands and therefore qualify for a 200 nautical mile EEZ under Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). If China claimed large swaths


of the South China Sea as its EEZ, then it could seek to restrict foreign naval vessels from operating and transiting through its claimed territory. As John Dutton of the US Naval War College points out, some Chinese civilian and military leaders see the South China Sea as China’s “strategic security belt.” The 2001 EP-3 incident near Hainan Island and China’s harassment of the US Navy survey ship Impeccable in 2009 are indicators of how China could eventuphoto: Jessica Bidwell ally exert itself in the South China Senior naval officers from Thailand and the Philippines attend the 2011 Senior Leaders Seminar. Sea. This possibility has naturally raised the concern of nations such as India and Japan, will issue a joint communiqué that will strengthen as well as the United States, which support freedom maritime security ties between Japan and ASEAN of navigation and view military access to the South and map out an action plan for cooperation. China Sea as vital to protecting sea lines of commuJapan is also taking concrete steps to support and nication (SLOC) in the area. strengthen relations with those nations at the forefront of maritime disputes with the PRC. In September of Working together 2011, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met with Philippine President Benigno Aquino and, citAs a result of the PRC’s growing maritime strength ing China’s growing assertiveness in regional waand assertiveness, countries on China’s periphery are ters, agreed to strengthen maritime cooperation. In beginning to work together to balance against this February of the following year, Tokyo announced common concern. One of the most important players that it was considering providing patrol boats to the in the effort toward regional maritime cooperation Philippines through an aid program. In July, Japanese is Japan. Driven by its dispute with China over the Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba traveled to Hanoi Senkaku Islands, and its concern for how the South to discuss Vietnam’s maritime disputes with China. China Sea dispute could affect vital SLOCs, Japan is Although no specific details were mentioned, the two now emerging as a key facilitator of regional maricountries did agree to cooperate on ensuring maritime security cooperation. In late 2011, Japan began time security in the South China Sea. to push for ASEAN dialogue partners to be included Tokyo has even taken modest steps toward coopin ASEAN’s maritime security forum, it was reported eration with Seoul. In late June, Japan, South Korea, in the Japan Times. More recently, Tokyo announced and the United States held a trilateral naval exercise that it would host a special summit with ASEAN near South Korean waters. The goal of this exercise members in 2013 to strengthen maritime security was to improve interoperability and communication cooperation. At the summit, it is expected that Japan between the ROK Navy and the Japan Maritime Self

Regional Cooperation  b  7

Defense Force. The two countries are also working toward an intelligence-sharing agreement which would allow them to exchange intelligence on Chinese military operations and other common issues. As a further indicator of the seriousness and farreaching significance of East-Asian maritime disputes, India is now entering into security dialogue and cooperation with East Asian nations, particularly Japan. In May, the two nations agreed to deepen dialogue on maritime and cyber-security cooperation. This was followed by a joint naval exercise off the Japanese coast the following month. In August, an Indian delegation led by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony met with counterparts in Japan to again discuss maritime security. Of the topics discussed, freedom of navigation and secure sea lines of communication were among the priority issues. As a result of this visit, both nations agreed to conduct exchanges and visits by staff members from ground, air, and naval forces.

Trilateral dialogue In June, India hosted trilateral dialogue with Japan and South Korea to discuss maritime security in the South China Sea. During the meeting, Indian Secretary of External Affairs for East Asia Sanjay Singh noted the problem of competing claims in the South China Sea and argued that India, South Korea, and Japan have similar strategic interests. In particular, he identified the importance of SLOCs to trade and energy security. Singh viewed this as a compelling case for maritime cooperation and urged the three nations to deepen cooperation between their defense and security establishments. As the two nations at the forefront of competing claims with China, Vietnam and the Philippines have also taken important steps toward strengthening their maritime security. In October of 2011, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang made a three-day visit to

the Philippines during which the two nations reached four bilateral agreements aimed at enhancing maritime security. Included in the agreements were a memorandum of understanding for enhancement of naval cooperation and information sharing, and the establishment of a hotline between their respective coast guards. Additionally, government agencies on both sides will work to collaborate on political, defense, and littoral-security issues.

“It is in China’s interest to compromise on maritime disputes such as those in the South China Sea.”

As the key driver and security concern of this newly emerging cooperation, China’s future policies and actions with regard to maritime disputes will largely influence how this security cooperation will evolve. If China decides to negotiate and compromise on maritime disputes in the South China Sea, as well as in the East China Sea, then neighboring nations are likely to limit the scope and depth of their security cooperation. However, if China continues down the path of increasing maritime assertiveness, neighboring nations are certain to deepen their security cooperation in order to balance against what they perceive as a common threat. It is in China’s interest to compromise on maritime disputes such as those in the South China Sea and recognize the interests of its neighbors. China fears encirclement and it has serious security concerns over its access to vital SLOCs, yet its own behavior could cause other nations to strengthen their military capabilities and deepen cooperation against China. This reaction, although defensive, could increase China’s desire to aggressively assert itself in the region. If this were to occur, the region could find itself in the grip of a classic security dilemma. n

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Strategic Vision vol. 1, no. 5 (September, 2012)

Much Ado About Islets Growing rows over islets and reefs causing regional maritime instability Dr. Chia-sheng Chen


he maintenance of littoral defense is vital to countries in the Asia Pacific. A lack of maritime stability in the region suggests that regional economic activities and trade relations, as well as security and cultural aspects, would face uncertainty and the possibility of disruption. As the world is entering the 21st century, maritime instability has become a significant issue, and one that has gradually generated a severe impact on all of the countries of the Asia Pacific. Variables affecting maritime defense may well be ascribed to such factors as sovereignty disputes over islets and reefs, competition over natural resources, freedom of navigation, piracy, and other concerns. There are multiple challenges associated with maritime defense in the Asia Pacific. All of the countries in this region recognize its importance; however, maritime defense sometimes contradicts national interests. For example, Beijing’s public announcement that it considers the entire South China Sea as its core interest created a disturbance in the region and brought international attention to security concerns. This assertion also sparked the conflicts that China recently had with both the Philippines and Vietnam over territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea.

in the East China and South China seas explained the grim issue among states as the most imminent problem affecting littoral security. In Northeast Asia, the Northern Islands dispute (or Kuril Islands in Russian) has been a long-term conflict between Japan and Russia; likewise, the Liancourt Rocks (or Dokdo Islands in Korean, and Takeshima islands in Japanese) have been a continuous irritant between Japan and South Korea for more than a hundred years; and the Tiaoyutai Islands (or Senkaku Islands in Japanese) are shaping up to become a major flashpoint in East Asia as their three claimants, Taiwan, China, and Japan, compete for dominance. These never-ending disputes are seriously endangering stability and security in the Asian littoral.

The fact that, most of the time, national interests outweigh maritime stability and territorial disputes is often the very crux of the problem. Territorial disputes associated with islets and reefs

over the South China Sea island. Japan, Taiwan, and China are still quarreling over the territorial sovereignty of the Tiaoyutai Islands even after several confrontations that have escalated tensions, especially

Nationalistic conflict Once in a while, the disputes over these tiny land masses take center stage, pulling countries into a state of nationalistic—and sometimes militarized—conflict. Beijing confronted Manila over the Scarborough Shoal (known as Huangyan Island in China, and Panatag Shoal in the Philippines), in April 2012, with some Chinese media outlets calling for all-out war

Dr. Chia-sheng Chen is an assistant professor with the Graduate School of International Affairs at Ming Chuan University. He can be reached for comment at

Islets and Reefs  b  9

between China and Japan, and jeopardized their already fragile foreign relations. China has threatened to conduct military exercises in the East China Sea—a traditional method used by Beijing to warn neighboring countries when it is upset. In short, islet and reef sovereignty disputes in Asia contribute greatly to maritime insecurity. The competition for resources is another factor affecting regional security. The so-called resources here are predominantly fossil fuels—the oil and natural gas believed to lie in abundance under the sea beds in the East China and South China seas—and fisheries resources that have, by some accounts, seen a decline in recent years. These resources are being consumed so fast that a resupply may not be able to catch up in time. Shortage of resources becomes a reason for countries in this area to contend with one another. China, as a booming developing country ranked as the world’s second-largest economy, has an urgent need for all kinds of resources, and is especially thirsty for oil and natural gas. This urgent need of re-

sources and China’s energy insecurity has led Beijing to pursue its national interests in a way that is far removed from its desired image of having a “peaceful rise.” Conflicts in the South China Sea suggest that Beijing’s intensification in pursuing resources

“Natural disasters can be securitized and conceived of as potential threats to the maritime defense of regional countries.” along with tightening protection of islet and reef sovereignty has exacerbated maritime insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region. These issues of sovereignty disputes and resource competition form a vicious circle, generating an impact on the security of the all-important sea lines of communication (SLOC). Having free and navigable SLOCs is crucial to all countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Not only do Japan and South Korea have a great reliance on

photo: Pham Nguyen Phuong Quynh Even the tiniest of the Spratly Islands under the effective control and management of Vietnam show a remarkable level of development.


SLOCs owing to their high levels of international trade, but all the countries in this area also require SLOCs to enhance their economic development and national prosperity. SLOCs, nevertheless, are often hampered by littoral insecurity. In March 2010, Chinese officials declared to the Americans that the South China Sea is Beijing’s core interest. It was the first time that Beijing so nakedly asserted its clear determination and willingness to use military force to protect its South China Sea claims. The assertion made waves throughout the region, upsetting maritime stability in the South China Sea and raising the specter of disrupting the SLOCs. Although freedom of navigation, piracy, natural disasters, and climate change are not as pressing as the three issues depicted above, they are important in non-traditional security terms and can still have a devastating impact from time to time. The March 11, 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster, for

instance, represented the most severe maritime threat the Japanese had ever experienced. This suggests that natural disasters can be securitized and conceived of as potential threats to the maritime defense of regional countries in general, and to Japan in particular. One takeaway to be gleaned from this event is that most threats to maritime defense cannot be resolved by a single country alone.

Different national interests This is also true for such issues as piracy and climate change, in spite of the fact that piracy—especially in the Malacca Strait—is far less serious in terms of human lives lost, and climate change is not immediately felt even when the pace of development is high. Yet what is essential is how we see the problem of maritime defense and how we deal with threats to littoral security. This is a difficult problem, because each

photo: Rodney Furry Two Vietnamese border policemen communicate with port authorities in preparation for the arrival of USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) to Danang, Vietnam.

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country has its own particular national interests to pursue, and its own problems to solve. As such, priorities differ among claimant nations, making it difficult to find common ground—a virtual prerequisite for sucessful negotiations. Therefore, littoral security requires global governance.

“The need for international governance to cope with these problems is pressing.”

Carleton Cramer, a senior research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, pointed out that maritime defense threats in the modern complex security environment have become severe challenges in the 21st century. Indeed, maritime instability threatens both the dimensions of state economy and international peace, and in turn contributes to interstate conflicts. Disputes over islet and reef sovereignty and the competition for resources are just two of the daunting challenges facing Asia right now. The need for international governance to cope with these problems is pressing. Global governance on maritime defense implies an acknowledgement of the need for international, or at least regional, cooperation and a common consensus in a peaceful and plausible measure to deal with disputes among nations. Without this premise, such governance is little more than lip service. In this regard, a multilateral mechanism must emerge in order to cope with the threats to littoral security in Northeast Asia. At an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty, Republic of China President Ma Ying-jeou proposed a five-point peace initiative for the East China Sea. The first point was self-restraint: Don’t escalate the antagonisms that already exist. Secondly, put aside disputes: Don’t give

up upon dialogue and open communication. Thirdly, observe international law: Disputes should be settled by peaceful means. Fourthly, seek consensus: A Code of Conduct for the East China Sea should be drafted. Finally, a mechanism should be formed for joint development of East China Sea resources. The peace initiative proposal came out at a time when several disputes were flaring up, namely the aforementioned rows over the Kuril Islands, the Liancourt Rocks, and the Tiaoyutai Islands. Nevertheless, it was welcomed by both scholars and foreign affairs practitioners in the region, and is believed to be a plausible idea in the search to reduce possible conflicts. It calls for a multilateral mechanism to act as a supranational governance body over which the United States could preside. Most of the regional actors—Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia, and China—all have claims they are pressing, and thus it would not be appropriate to have them mediate. Another reason why US buy-in is essential is that America serves as the security guarantor for the region, and enjoys security alliances with Japan and South Korea, both of which play a significant role in the US re-engagement with Asia. Moreover, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, the United States is in a position to act as a balancer among the countries involved, particularly Russia and China, and ensure the smooth operation of the cooperative mechanism. The East China Sea Peace Initiative and the multilateral mechanism that it envisions are examples of how best to deal with the littoral security issues facing East Asia today. The territorial disputes in the South China Sea demand more and better collective efforts to form a new type of peace initiative, one that is different from previous proposals, so that all countries involved would be able to contribute, rather than letting states’ self-interest limit participants and prevent success. n

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photo: Jeff Head The People’s Liberation Army Navy has designs on fielding a carrier strike force, the centerpiece of which is an aircraft carrier purchased from the Ukraine.

Strategic Vision vol. 1, no. 5 (September, 2012)

Blue Water Blues US Navy ponders the future challenges posed by a growing Chinese navy Dr. John Schmeidel


ith a reported 11 percent general military budget boost in 2012 (on top of 13 percent in 2011) and a third of Chinese military spending now going to the formerly neglected People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), a change

has been a land power. Mao Zedong’s revolutionary struggles and the Civil War left the gargantuan People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with political pride of place. With the Russian flank secure to the north and no real threat from the armies of any neighbor,

in strategic doctrine backed by frantic shipbuilding in China has a hard-pressed and fiscally strapped US Navy scratching its head for an appropriate response. Historically, the People’s Republic of China (PRC)

the PRC’s appetite is turning toward salt water. While the US Navy is still larger than the next dozen navies of the world combined, including China’s, the Middle Kingdom boasts a fleet that could dominate

Dr. John Schmeidel is a researcher with National Chengchi University’s International Doctoral Program in Asia Pacific Studies. He can be reached for comment at

Blue Water Hurdles  b  13

East Asian waters if the Americans do not intervene. As the forces of the United States slip to an unprecedented peacetime low of 286 ships worldwide and naval operations now having to be launched from as far away as Guam, the PLAN has some appealing options in their home waters in a crescent running from Japan to Indonesia.

Troubling issues The Americans are troubled by five issues, some of which reflect evolving Chinese strategy, and others that spring from China’s cracking pace of deployment of the very newest technology. The evolution of PLAN’s geopolitical strategy has been in the wind for over a decade now, since the collapse of the USSR freed its northern border from Central Asia to the Pacific, lightening the burden on the land army. Its crash shipbuilding program and the high technical level of what is rolling off the ways is a newer and more ominous development. Asymmetric warfare is the historic weapon of the weak against the strong, which is another way of saying play to your strengths by choosing the field of battle and preventing the enemy from maximizing his own advantages. In urban combat like Stalingrad, lightly armed defenders drawing heavy armor into a city to hamper tanks’ mobility among rubble would be an example. The Chinese navy’s take on this doctrine is to recognize the power of the US Navy and never attempt a classic ship-to-ship fleet engagement they would lose. Instead, they focus on the lynchpin of US force: the carrier battle group with its attendant surface ships. The ideal attacking platform is an expendable and quiet diesel submarine that can approach very near and wreak havoc. It was a 1950s vintage Songclass diesel sub that, in an act of bravado, surfaced at point-blank range to count coup on the USS Kitty Hawk carrier during 2007 maneuvers in the Pacific.

The Chinese have been testing the US Navy’s resolve of late. In the international waters of the volatile South China Sea in 2009, Chinese patrol boats surrounded and threatened a US electronic intelligence vessel, ridiculing its crew and chasing it away. US naval officers were furious no stronger response to this provocation was made. This strategy goes hand-in-hand with access denial. What access denial means is a forward strategy, like a tennis player rushing the net. The PLAN has resolved not to defend only China’s historic coastal waters—its mission since 1947—but to begin the battle early, well beyond the Philippines and Indonesia, if possible. Not only would this slow the US Navy down in getting to the East-Asian theater, it would allow Chinese subs to romp in the deep blue waters east of the Philippines all the way to Guam and the Marianas, out of reach of any sonar buoys and hard to find by other submarines. Chinese strategic lit-

“The US Navy has no more than one and occasionally two carrier groups on station in the Pacific at any one time.” erature has been focusing on access denial for years. Consequently, it has become a buzzword on Capitol Hill on defense appropriation committees. The US Navy has no more than one and occasionally two carrier groups on station in the Pacific at any one time. At the moment, it is only one, the USS Nimitz, hovering a three-day sail away near Hawaii. In times of crisis, and for a short time, the United States could support three carrier groups in the Pacific by stripping them from other hot spots like the Middle East. Given the limited number of targets for the PLAN to go after, triangulating their probable location is not an impossible task thanks to the powerful signals intelligence provided by satellites.


In line with a strategy of asymmetric warfare and access denial, the PLAN has embarked upon an ambitious submarine construction program at both ends of the submarine spectrum. The state-of-the-art nuclear Jin 09 class strategic subs can linger indefinitely on station in the deep Pacific trenches, with Los Angeles, Chicago or even Washington, D.C. within missile range. These behemoths provide the game theorist’s dream of a 1950s-style mutual assured destruction scenario, an invulnerable strike-back capacity in the event of the rest of its forces being destroyed, or indeed all enemy cities lying in ashes.

Submarines cost-effective Plenty of submarines deployed are a cost-effective method of blockading necessary raw materials, perhaps oil destined for Japan or Taiwan. In two world wars, Germany’s primitive subs nearly brought the UK and US merchant fleets to destruction at a trifling cost in men and hardware, throttling the combatants’ supplies of food and raw materials. As fuel-burning subs require land basing, unlike the long-cruising

nuclear submarines, China is taking the long view to construct a “string of pearls” of naval bases along the southern Pacific Coast all the way to the Persian Gulf. Notionally to protect against the closing of sea lanes

“The battle-winning key, now as ever, is pinpointing the enemy’s location in the vastness of the ocean.”

of access and to patrol for pirates, this interlocking string of naval bases could close up fuel supplies to the eastern hemisphere. Small, conventionally powered subs are a legacy of the days of protecting mainly the shallow home waters. These less high-tech diesel submarines are also useful for the David-and-Goliath strategy of access denial. If the PLAN can pin the Americans against the ropes as far back as Guam and the Philippines, they cannot bring their full weight to bear on the Chinese mainland. Nor could they come to the aid of Taiwan, perhaps for days, and perhaps not at all.

photo: Took Ranch A Chinese Kilo-class submarine purchased from Russia. Kilos are ideal for anti-shipping operations in the shallow waters of the Taiwan Strait.

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The advent of the inexpensive guided missile—ship killers of the first order—changed naval warfare as much as torpedoes or carrier airplanes operating at sea did in their time. Chinese (or American or French) land-, air-, surface-, or underwater-launched ballistic or cruise missiles, even with conventional warheads not nuclear tipped, will obliterate with near certainty anything from a frigate to an aircraft carrier. This blizzard tactic was pioneered by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the 1970s and 1980s—the glory days of the Soviets’ own navy. No surface ship will long survive a sustained barrage of many missiles from all points of the compass and azimuths: the defender’s information-processing systems are overwhelmed. One direct hit is fatal, in general. Modern ships are not armored to withstand missiles. The battlewinning key, now as ever, is pinpointing the enemy’s location in the vastness of the ocean. Whoever finds his opponent on a grid and fires accurately first, wins. The highly publicized Chinese aircraft carrier, formerly called the Varyag, is a gutted and decommissioned Soviet carrier acquired at a fire-sale price in the 1990s. Current Chinese plans are to turn the Varyag into the kernel of a fully operational carrier task force on the American model. While this has generated justifiable alarm in the popular press as good evidence of belligerent intent—China has no nearby enemies worthy of a carrier assault, with the conspicuous exception of Taiwan—this could be a project with more bark than bite.

Questionable value They are a long way from sea trials with the ship fitted as anything but a skeleton hulk. Pilots take five to ten years of training, and there are presently no planes in the Chinese arsenal that can bear the stresses of naval carrier aviation. Even against a relatively weak opponent like a Taiwan unaided by the United States, it

photo: Rick Chernitzer Chinese Minister of National Defense General Liang Guanglie.

is questionable whether the PLAN would risk such a high-value target, given the vulnerability of all surface ships to missiles. In the shallow waters of the Taiwan Strait, an approaching carrier could expect an all-out attack from under, on, and over the sea. Moreover, carriers are like potato chips: You can’t have just one. There must always be at least a second to deploy while the other is down for maintenance or in transit elsewhere, complete with pilots, support ships and covering land-based naval aircraft. A 2009 Pentagon report estimated that China’s naval forces include some 75 principal combatants, over 60 submarines, 55 medium and large amphibious ships, and approximately 70 missile-equipped patrol craft. While this represents a not-insurmountable challenge to the acknowledged security guarantor in the Asia-Pacific—the US Navy—what is important is the trend, which clearly shows an evolving Chinese navy, both in terms of hardware and capabilities. An accurate and sober assessment of the trajectory of China’s naval modernization must be made in order to adequately prepare an effective defense. n

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Strategic Vision vol. 1, no. 5 (September, 2012)

A Rock and a Hard Place Creative thinking needed for ROC to leverage South China Sea quandary Edward Hsieh


ne would be hard-pressed not to notice the recent wave of sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea, with tensions rising in the region as a whole as countries advance competing territorial claims. As these rival claims are pressed, a general feeling of nervousness pervades the Asia-Pacific. Given this state of affairs, Taiwan is in the unenviable position of not only being a fellow claimant, but the only country that is functionally unable to engage in any negotiated solution due to the diplomatic blockade by China. As such, Taiwan is marginalized. Without a doubt, the South China Sea has obvious strategic value, both in terms of defense and economics, so it does not seem likely that any claimants would readily drop their claims, especially at a time

when the security dynamics of the region are being redrawn. The American pivot to Asia, for example, is seen by many regional actors as an opportunity to balance against a rising Middle Kingdom, while Beijing perceives the American return to Asia as a ploy to encircle or contain China. On June 2, 2012, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the pivot in a speech on the US rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific. After nearly a decade of focus on the Middle East, the United States realized its de-emphasis on Asia had permitted the rise of a militarily confident and newly aggressive China. The failure of Washington’s decades-long engagement strategy toward Beijing gave way to one closer to containment, with Beijing joining the competition with counter-containment efforts of its own.

photo: Nicolas Lannuzel A bird’s-eye view of the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by Taiwan, China, and Vietnam. South China Sea disputes have heated up in past months.

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hsieh is an instructor at National Defense University’s Army Command and Staff College. He can be reached for comment at

Resolving Disputes  b  17

According to Panetta, approximately 60 percent of the US fleet will be deployed in Asia by 2020, with a concomitant adjustment in the deployment of armed forces personnel and new strategic weapons to the Pacific. The new position will be evident in both military and economic terms through the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise and such regional groupings as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Countering this is a Chinese drive to extend the influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) into the Middle East, hold large-scale military exercises of its own, and establish a new strategic ballistic-missile force and deploy high-tech jet fighters. The purpose is for Beijing to demonstrate its capabilities and determination to resist American encirclement.

Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, to scuttle the issuance of the customary joint communiqué, marking the first time this has happened in the organization’s nearly half-century long history. In its conflict with Manila over the Scarborough Shoal (known as Huangyan Island in China and Panatag Shoal in the Philippines), Beijing attacked

“The ROC not only occupied these islands, but was in a position of effective management of them.”

News of the American return to Asia has encouraged some Asian countries, notably the Philippines and Vietnam, to stand up to China and express their intent to press their littoral interests. Both countries agree on the need for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, and have taken a hard line to defend their claims from Chinese encroachment. The Philippines has secured promises of support from the United States and Japan, and has been pressing its sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal. Vietnam, meanwhile, passed a law defining its territorial waters, including its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The legislation

on the economic front, disallowing tourist trips to the Philippines, citing safety issues, and holding up banana imports for longer inspections, citing “quarantine concerns.” To intimidate Vietnam, Beijing approved the July 24, 2012 establishment of Sansha city in Hainan province, to nominally administer the Spratly and Paracel Islands as well as the Macclesfield Bank, and it issued an open invitation for foreign oil bids in territory that falls within Vietnam’s EEZ. Despite the Republic of China (ROC) being forced to withdraw from mainland China in 1949, the occupation and management of its holdings in the South China Sea still lasted for a long time afterward. ROC historical archives show that, in 1964, then-President Chiang Kai-Shek ordered Chen Cheng, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to deploy troops to the Paracels and Spratlys. This suggests that the ROC not only occupied these islands at that time, but

domestically affirms that the disputed islands in the Paracel and Spratly chains belong to Vietnam, and Hanoi has been executing high-profile patrols of the islands by jet fighter. Reacting to these affronts to its core interests, China took a number of retaliatory actions. It exerted pressure on Cambodia, the host of the 45th ASEAN

was in a position of effective management of them. For complicated diplomatic, economic, and military reasons, the ROC government decided to keep only Taiping Island (or Itu Aba) and remove its forces from the others. While the reasons likely had to do with ROC sovereignty and to show good will to neighboring countries, this decision weakened the legitimacy

Polarizing news


photo: Nixon Presidential Library and Museum President Nixon shares a drink with Premier Chou En-Lai. During the 1970s, China began to assume the international space once occupied by Taiwan.

of ROC claims over the islands, giving other powers a chance to occupy them and bolster their own claims. After the People’s Republic of China (PRC) assumed the ROC’s UN seat in 1971, and when the United States derecognized Taipei in favor of Beijing in 1979, much of the ROC’s place in the world has been assumed by the PRC.

Constrained international space This trend is continuing: China’s rise continues unabated, and it is gaining more and more influence in the world even as friendly forces are becoming weaker in comparison. Beijing uses this influence to constrain the international space open to Taipei—a diplomatic blockade that is simply too hard to break through. This trend shows no signs of changing any time soon, leaving the ROC government hardly able to do anything about it, and giving the people of Taiwan a feeling of marginalization that grows day by day. During the Cold War, Taiwan depended on geopolitical factors, such as its key geographic position in the First Island Chain, to become an integral part of Western containment efforts against communist expansion. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of China, that situation changed, and the military

value of Taiwan has decreased. Besides its vibrant democracy, the crucial factors in trilateral TaipeiWashington-Beijing relations will be how best to manifest military, semi-military and nonmilitary value. Since 2008, Washington insiders have begun to hear a growing chorus from the “abandon Taiwan” movement, until last year when it became an issue fit for open discussion. Although it has not been reflected in mainstream policy in the United States, it has still been instrumental in illustrating just how far Taiwan’s strategic value, and the US willingness to take risks, have waned, even to the point of damaging US interests. The arguments put forward by proponents of this movement follow simple, almost facile, logic. The first is that China is too strong: Because the United States cannot maintain balance in the Taiwan Strait indefinitely, and since Washington needs Beijing’s cooperation in international affairs, therefore the United States must sacrifice Taiwan in exchange for a promise of Chinese cooperation. The second is to strengthen the United States: Even if China takes Taiwan, it still cannot challenge US dominance in Asia. In addition, since “the Taiwan issue” is often perceived as an irritant to Sino-US ties, abandoning Taiwan would not only remove that irritant but

Resolving Disputes  b  19

also placate China and put an end to its saber rattling. The third proposes a Finlandization of Taiwan: If Taiwan is under effective Chinese suzerainty, then the United States can stop selling it high-tech weaponry, and effectively sever its security ties with the island.

Unilateral changes Clearly, following a path dictated by any of these options would be detrimental to the survival of Taiwan’s democracy. It would abrogate the US position of opposing actions or statements, from either side, that would unilaterally alter Taiwan’s status. As a democracy, Taiwan must heed the will of its people in any development in the cross-strait relationship. This becomes increasingly difficult as talk like that described above makes it seem as though Taiwan is a chess piece being moved about the board by the great powers. It therefore becomes incumbent upon Taipei to somehow find a voice in the international community from which it has largely been excluded. The contentious nature of the conflicting South China Sea disputes could give Taiwan that voice, especially as it coincides with the United States reengaging in Asia. This could once again be accomplished through the geopolitical lens.

The largest island in the Spratly island chain—and the only one with its own source of fresh water—is Itu Aba, or Taiping Island. This highly prized territory is claimed by the Philippines, China, and Vietnam, but it is under the effective administration of Taiwan, with 600 Taiwanese living there, mostly Coast Guard personnel. This holding could conceivably be leveraged as a possible way to engage at an official level with other regional powers. Taiping has been developed by the ROC for many years, with a landing strip capable of accommodating C-130 transport planes, and even tourist attractions. A feasible strategy could include using the island as a staging area for humanitarian and search-andrescue missions, and erecting a weather observation station which could provide information to all vessels transiting through the area. Further projects could conceivably include using the island in joint US-ROC intelligence-gathering efforts. Such cooperation on the development of Taiping Island is a good way to enhance the lines of defense for the ROC national security. All these measures could not only enlarge the ROC’s contribution on the world stage, but it would also eliminate doubts in the United States about Taiwan’s importance as a willing ally in the region. n

photo: Ting Chang Construction equipment on Taiping Island. Taiwan has been building the South China Sea island for decades and posts about 600 personnel there.

20  b 

Strategic Vision vol. 1, no. 5 (September, 2012)

War of the Flea

Taiwan’s Navy aims at blocking amphibious assault with smaller, faster craft J. Michael Cole

photo: ROC MND


The prototype of the Kuang Hua VI-class of missile boats, the FACG-60 (Fast Attack Craft, Guided missile), was commissioned on October 1, 2003.

he days when the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) could engage in a boat-for-boat competition with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are long gone. This reality— one with which Taipei appears to have reconciled itself—has forced military planners to reassess how Taiwan can best secure its littoral waters. Over the past two decades, the PLAN has embarked on a massive program to modernize and expand its

services other than the Army, which from the days of Mao Zedong had remained the central pillar of the Chinese armed forces. This, in turn, means that the required investment in the navy went well beyond merely replacing aging ships: it led to a rapid expansion along quantitative and qualitative lines. As the PLAN came to play a more prominent role in PLA force projection, Beijing began to diversify naval assets to meet a number of

naval assets. Momentum for such an investment came both from the need to rejuvenate a service that had long been ignored, and from a decision within the Central Military Commission to give a larger role to

contingencies over an increasingly large area of operations. No longer regarded as a mere force to secure China’s coastal waters, the PLAN began to acquire capabilities that were increasingly offensive in nature. In

J. Michael Cole is a Taipei-based correspondent on China and Taiwan for Jane’s Defence Weekly, deputy news chief at the Taipei Times, and a regular columnist for The Diplomat.

War of the Flea  b  21

addition to destroyers and frigates, the PLAN began to equip itself with low-signature fast-attack missile boats like the Type 022 (with about 80 now in service), and the new Type 056 corvettes, while shipyards began churning out large-displacement amphibious transport docks, such as the Yuzhao-class Type 071, and appeared to have plans to develop landing helicopter docks—presumably the Type 081. During that period, China increased its submarine fleet, and its first aircraft carrier, recently named the Liaoning, underwent refurbishing and could enter service by the end of this year. Greater attention has been paid to naval aviation, while in summer 2012, images emerged which seemed to indicate that the PLAN was testing a shipbased version of the DH-10 land-attack cruise missile (LACM), which would thus complete China’s cruise missile triad and provide its navy with the ability to attack ground targets from a variety of vectors at sea. While those capabilities are not all solely directed at Taiwan, there is little doubt that the great majority of them could be used against the island should a shift occur in the current détente. As Beijing has never abandoned the military option to bring forth unification with Taiwan or prevent de

jure independence, the ROC military has had to prepare for such an eventuality and to adapt its defense strategy to face a challenge from the PLA that has become both formidable and more multifaceted. Given the role the ROCN would play in defending Taiwan from Chinese attack, two related axes require greater attention: survivability and asymmetry.

Naval survivability The ROCN’s survivability is not unlike that faced by the ROC Air Force, in that its forces are limited by Taiwan’s constraining geography and small number of force concentrations. As such, naval bases, like airbases, will become priority targets in the opening phase of a Chinese attack on the island to disable its ability to control airspace and sea areas around Taiwan. The lack of dispersal, and, in the ROCN’s case, the surface action groups centered around its Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, make them attractive targets for the Second Artillery Corps’ shortand medium-range missiles and cruise missiles. The options for ensuring that the ROCN could survive an initial volley goes beyond hardening, dissim-

photo: Myles Cullen A Chinese Su-27 Flanker fighter. Designed in Russia, it was intended as a direct competitor for the large United States fourth-generation fighters.


ulation, decoys and air-defense systems. Dispersal, as well as the reorganization of surface combatants through a greater focus on larger groups of small, fast, and mobile attack ships, would increase the likelihood that ROCN ships would survive an initial attack and be able to fight back. Taiwan already appears to have moved in that direction, with the entry into service of thirty-one 170-tonne Kuang Hua VI (KH-6) fast-attack boats, equipped with Hsiung Feng II anti-ship missiles, and split into three squadrons, since 2010, as well as the development of a 450-tonne missile corvette—which will reportedly pack eight HF-2 and HF-3 “carrier killer” launchers—under the Hsun Hai program. Other surface combatants, such as the 500-tonne Ching Chiang-class patrol boats, are also being outfitted with the supersonic, ramjet-powered HF-3, while work is being carried out in Kaohsiung to equip the Navy’s two combat-capable submarines with Harpoon missile launchers. Taiwan’s situational sea awareness will also be increased with the induction starting in 2013 of twelve refurbished P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft acquired from the United States, as well

as the launch, after years of delays, of the US$800 million long-range early-warning radar on Leshan Mountain, in Hsinchu County, which will provide sea-tracking capability. The shift toward a greater number of smaller ships therefore appears to be underway. While the acquisition or development of small craft may not attract as much news coverage as large surface combatants, their low cost allows for the deployment of larger numbers, which in turn ensures greater survivability. By forsaking highly expensive, big-ticket items like the Kidd-class destroyers, the ROCN can diversify its forces and better customize itself to meet current and future contingencies. Their limited range, meanwhile, will also force the ROCN to reorient its forces toward littoral defense rather than for high-seas engagements in which its fleet is unlikely to prevail.

Credible deterrent Beyond what has already been done, the ROCN can do more to present a credible deterrent to a Chinese invasion. For one, naval experts are of the view that

photo: ROC MND Formerly French La Fayette-class frigates, the Kang-Ding-class PFG2s are the primary combatants of the 124th Flotilla tasked with AAW and ASW missions.

War of the Flea  b  23

the KH-6s, which have replaced the now-decommissioned Hai Ou-class missile boats, are a “transition” ship, with better and more advanced models to come. Whatever form those take, requirements call for qualitative and quantitative improvements, and sufficient numbers of ships will need to be deployed to ensure survivability and the ability to strike back. As well as ship-based capabilities, the Taiwanese armed forces should do more in terms of landbased anti-ship capabilities by producing and fielding more HF-2 and HF-3 launchers along the coasts, such as those currently deployed at Hetianshan in Hualien, and using Taiwan’s geography (for example, its mountain ranges) to protect them. As the PLAN has increased its ability to launch encircling naval attacks against Taiwan, land-based launchers will have to be oriented so that they can target objects at sea to the east, west, north, and south of Taiwan, and not just in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s heavy investment in Hsiung Feng cruisemissile technology—one of the key, and most successful, programs of the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology—as well as the decision by the Ma Ying-jeou administration to begin mass-production despite opposition from the United States, is indicative of a shift from big-ticket procurements toward self-reliance and asymmetry.

Precision strikes While the move appears to be a step in the right direction, Taiwan’s ability to launch over-the-horizon precision strikes against Chinese targets remains dependent upon off-board sensors. At present, most of those sensors are part of Taiwan’s shore-based longrange radar network and tactical datalink systems. Ensuring the survivability of those systems through redundancy (more radar sites, for example) or mobile sensors, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, will ensure that Taiwan’s surface combatants are not blind

at sea and unable to acquire targets. Ideally, a future ROCN would include a greater number of submarines, but plans to either acquire them from abroad or to develop them domestically remain controversial, with few encouraging signs of

“Taiwan’s littoral defense strategy would also benefit if it included a counterforce component.”

progress. Unless Taipei can secure a provider willing to risk alienating Beijing over such a sale, a domestic program will take several years before a viable prototype can be produced, and will arguably require large injections of capital that could be put to better use in projects that are likelier to yield results. Taiwan’s littoral defense strategy would also benefit if it included a counterforce component, especially the ability to target harbors along the Chinese coast facing Taiwan. Sea- or air-launched Harpoon missiles with coastal suppression kits would be a worthwhile investment, as would the deployment, as mentioned earlier, of larger numbers of Hsiung Feng missiles capable of reaching such targets. The realistic aim of the ROCN is not to defeat the PLAN. Rather, in line with the Ministry of National Defense white paper of 2011, “victory” is now defined as the ability to prevent a successful amphibious assault while buying Taipei enough time for its principal ally, the United States, to intervene. To that end, the ROCN may also want to increase focus on its ability to open a corridor in the West Pacific through which the United States could safely send reinforcements. Taiwan’s goal is not to sink the PLAN, but to present Beijing with enough capabilities to ensure that any adventurism would come at a high price. A “war of the flea” in Taiwan’s surrounding waters, rather than a clash of the titans, is the only option. n

24  b

Strategic Vision vol. 1, no. 5 (September, 2012)

Evasive Maneuvers ROC Navy faces a force-planning dilemma on littoral or high-seas options Chihlung Dan


n late July this year, four Republic of China Navy (ROCN) vessels strayed outside the area of operation for a drill in which they were participating and maneuvered close to waters of the Japanese island of Yonaguni, located about 100 kilometers off Taiwan’s east coast. The action prompted the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) to dispatch a P-3 Orion Anti-Submarine Maritime Reconnaissance Aircraft to overfly and photograph the ROC ships, causing great concern for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. The senior military leadership, infuriated by the incident, levied a heavy

punishment on the commander of the flotilla, relieving the rear admiral and commander of the 168th Fleet from duty for what the ministry termed “serious disciplinary violations.” Since the squadron traveled through international waters without violating the Convention on the High Seas, and overflights like that of the JMSDF P-3 Orion are widely regarded as a normal response for identification purposes, the officer’s dismissal has been interpreted as an overreaction and a demonstration of the senior leadership’s lack of knowledge of international law.

photo: ROC MND Officers and crew in the wheelhouse of an ROC naval vessel. Military decisionmakers are faced with charting a new course for future navy development.

Rear Admiral (Reserve) Chihlung Dan is currently pursuing his PhD at National Sun Yet-sen University. He can be reached for comment at 

Force Planning  b  25

photo: Philip McMaster A People’s Liberation Army soldier offers a hand gesture while driving by in a missile launcher during a military parade in Beijing, China.

The ministry’s response triggered great domestic political turmoil, with critics charging that the punishment was excessively harsh, and that it resulted in a show of weakness to Japan. An investigation committee was formed to look into handling of the matter, and the officer has since been reinstated. This incident and the controversy it engendered have called public attention to ongoing debates within the national security community on the sensitive issue of ROCN strategy in the event of war with China. For example, the question of what should be the policy on the option of ROC naval assets hiding in international waters—some of these adjacent to a third country—for the purposes of force preservation and subsequent joint strike operations. Regardless of the political dynamics, debates on ROCN opera-

tense wave of missile/air strikes as a prelude, targeting Taiwan’s critical military assets including command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, military airfields and seaports, as well as air defense and anti-ship missile sites, while attempting to maintain the civilian infrastructure intact.

tional plans also provide an opportunity to further investigate the feasibility and adaptability of ROCN strategies of high-seas mobility and tactical ambiguity during war time. In contingency planning for a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invasion of Taiwan, the most likely scenarios are those in which the enemy launches an in-

and sea combat forces by destroying direct threats, as well as constraining the ROC Armed Forces’ combat capabilities and depriving them of support. To minimize losses, the ROC Armed Forces has long employed a preservation doctrine that consists of evacuating major air/sea combat platforms to the east coast and the high seas in the Pacific whenev-

First strike The PLA has major assets to support this action, including the Second Artillery, the 1,400-plus tactical ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and numerous sea mines that can be quickly laid by PLA Navy (PLAN) submarines. The goals of such a first-strike would be to seize maximum freedom of movement for PLA air


photo: ROC MND The Yeongyang-class ocean minesweepers were acquired from the United States in the 1950s and saw service in the Korean War.

er a missile-attack warning is issued. Nonetheless, the runways at Hualien and Taitung airports, on the country’s east coast, are still not exempt from today’s China missile threat. If aerial dominance is lost, and major seaports are shut down by the deployment of mines, the ROC fleet will face multiple threats, especially those from the air and subsurface, not to mention the serious problem of insufficient logistical support on the high seas. Even if all forces were to survive a first strike, enormous challenges would remain if land-based C4ISR systems are compromised, rendering command, control, and communications even more difficult in later joint interdiction operations and putting the nation’s defense forces in an extremely unfavorable condition. Finding solutions to these problems is a pivotal task for ROC military planners if they are to successfully implement this force-conservation strategy. If there are no feasible answers to these questions in this worst-case scenario, then the ROCN has to carefully re-examine its high-seas operational strategy and respective force planning programs which focus on

larger combat ships. The realistic outcomes of accepting the risks of mines and submarine attacks when maneuvering in the high seas as a tradeoff for reduced vulnerability to threats from air strikes when docked in harbor also need to be recalculated.

Hardware dictates tactics Most defense articles of the ROC Armed Forces were acquired from the United States. The tactics that have been developed are in accord with the particular weapon systems in place, and are thus subject to US operational concepts. Since the late 1950s, the ROC has acquired the lion’s share of its advanced fighters and air-to-air weapon systems—along with its major combat ships—from the United States. In the late 1970s, ROCN assets such as Fletcher-class destroyers, and their Sumner- and Gearing-class derivatives, exceeded their PLAN counterparts (such as the Type 051 Luda class) both in terms of quantity and quality. US forces positioned in adjacent regions under the auspices of the Sino-American Mutual Defense

Force Planning  b  27

Treaty of 1954 also contributed to effective ROC air/ sea dominance in the Taiwan Strait. With the goal of rivaling the ROC and US navies’ larger ships during this period, the PLAN adopted the Coastal Defense Doctrine and implemented an asymmetric force structure that focused on the capabilities of naval aviation, submarines, and fast-attack craft (fei, qian, kuai). The numbers of submarines, missile boats, and navy fighters/bombers that were fielded posed an unprecedented threat to the ROCN. The spirit of the US defense alliance was such that the ROC was prevented from building up any offensive capability. For a long period, it also confined ROCN battle training to a narrow focus on countering fast-attack craft and drilling in anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) techniques. The PLAN defensive strategy and focus on an aerial, subsurface, and speedy force structure succeeded in turning the tables, forcing the ROCN— originally advantageous in terms of surface warfare— to adopt a defensive posture. Global events continued to act in China’s favor. The collapse of the bipolar international system in the

late 1980s and China’s near-continuous economic boom have encouraged Beijing to review its overall national-security strategy and explore means of en-

“Once again, the ROC Armed Forces are facing a new, unprecedented strategic environment.”

hancing China’s influence in the international arena. Building its military strength in support of national strategy has become the ne plus ultra of these goals. As the 21st century approached, the PLAN began to transition to an offshore defensive strategy that entailed more out-of-area operations, away from its traditional territorial waters. The recent commissioning of an aircraft carrier and long-term deployments executing escort missions in the Gulf of Aden, as well as achieving China’s first circumnavigation of the globe, have been instrumental in demonstrating the PLA’s intent to develop a blue-water navy and eventually break through to the Second Island Chain.

photo: ROC MND The ROCS Hai Lung (SS-793) surfaces. The boat is a modified version of the Zwaardvis-class built in the Netherlands for Taiwan’s navy.


photo: ROC MND The ROCS Kee Lung (DDG 1801) was one of the first two ex-USS Kidd-class destroyers to have been delivered to the ROC fleet in 2005.

Today, the PLAN’s force-projection capabilities have far surpassed those of the Coastal Defense Doctrine era, and the strategic status across the Taiwan Strait has tilted in the PLA’s favor. Once again, the ROC Armed Forces are facing a new, unprecedented strategic environment. Effective countermeasures that will respond effectively to the inherent threat posed by a PLAN blue-water navy must be explored.

Strategy inversion

President Ma Ying-jeou restored “resolute defense, effective deterrent” after taking office in 2008, largely in response to discontent inside the Washington beltway where questions arose regarding Chen’s apparent intent to free-ride off the US security guarantee. To the ROCN, the offshore battle doctrine has always been dominant in defense planning, and larger ships with better sustainability and firepower are widely considered by the ROCN force planning concept to be preferable platforms over smaller ships. The payoff is that larger and older combat ships incur higher maintenance and operating costs, as well as demanding higher training standards and tying up more manpower. Unfortunately, the ROC defense budget has never reached the 3 percent of GDP promised by President Ma. All the problems listed above call into question the viability of a large-ship mentality, especially if the survivability of large assets such as the Kidd-class destroyers under the enemy’s air/subsurface threats and the aforementioned logistical difficulties of operating in the high seas is no better than cheaper, more numerous asymmetric assets. Such asymmetric assets

“Smaller but cheaper missile craft can not only achieve the same effect, but they are also easier to replenish.”

After former President Chen Shui-bian came to power in 2000, the ROC military strategy of “resolute defense, effective deterrent” was inverted, to “effective deterrent, resolute defense.” The ROC Armed Forces were asked to prepare for offshore battles conducted away from Taiwan’s territory during defense cam-

consist of 12 Ching Chiang-class Fast Attack Missile Craft, 31 Kuang Hua VI (KH-6) fast-attack missile boats, and an order for 12 Hsun Hai fast patrol boats—

paigns designed to prevent war from touching the island directly and putting the civilian population in the line of fire. It was also during this administration that Taipei acquired four Kidd-class guided missile destroyers from Washington. These four destroyers have since become the largest naval combat assets in terms of tonnage, and tangible icons of ROCN firepower.

a sleek catamaran reminiscent of the design of the US Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship. The prevailing mindset of acquiring and adopting larger combat ships for battle in the high seas should be adjusted. Modern sea battles have evolved. New weapons systems such as increasingly sophisticated guided missiles, satellite communications, and over-the-horizon

Force Planning  b  29

radar are constantly rewriting the book of tactics. The current ROCN interdiction operation concept is considered nothing but a decisive battle targeting PLA amphibious landing forces in the form of an exchange of missiles and shells. For the purpose of firing missiles against enemy’s ships, smaller but cheaper missile craft can not only achieve the same effect, but are also easier to replenish. Although smaller ships are not as sustained and effective as larger ships, the PLAN’s amphibious forces are likewise vulnerable to unfavorable sea states, making a successful landing a tremendous challenge. In this case, the ROCN’s planned joint interdiction operation executed by larger ships might be avoided, and ventures based on these assets will become cost ineffective. This article suggests that the ROCN must carefully develop an effective defense strategy to counter PLA invasion scenarios and put in practice a feasible, cost-effective force build-up plan. Tactically, littoral anti-blockade and anti-submarine operations should be the first priority, to be executed by existing destroyers and frigates. Successful ASW operations

will also keep critical seaports as well as the sea lines of communication open and free from threats by submarines and mines. Since the range and hit-rate of most air-to-sea missiles are better than sea-to-air missiles, attacks on surface targets should not be the navy’s exclusive purview and must be carried through joint and asymmetric efforts. The ROCN must also move forward on the longstalled submarine acquisition plan. International political realities mean that submarines cannot be acquired, or even transferred, from third countries, and hoping for this is an impracticable expectation and a waste of time. The cross-strait situation and military balance have undergone a substantial transformation in the past decade. If the renowned Buddhist sage Atisha was correct when he said that “your enemy is always your greatest teacher,” then perhaps the ROCN might best frustrate China’s plans to field a blue-water navy against the island by adopting its own doctrine of building an asymmetric littoral force, one with “aerial, subsurface, and speedy” capabilities. n

photo: Zeyang A Taiwanese honor guard wearing the white uniform of the ROC Navy performs weapons drill at a changing-of-the-guard ceremony in Taiwan.

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Strategic Vision, Issue 5  

Strategic Vision is a magazine put out by NCCU's Center for Security Studies and the ROC National Defense University that provides analysis...

Strategic Vision, Issue 5  

Strategic Vision is a magazine put out by NCCU's Center for Security Studies and the ROC National Defense University that provides analysis...

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