Biden Must Work to Enhance Taiwan’s Air and Sea Denial Capabilities

March 6, 2021 Updated: March 6, 2021

Commentary

Under the Trump administration, the United States worked to enhance Taiwan’s ability to deny China access to the seas off its coast and its airspace. President Joe Biden should continue helping Taiwan modernize its military because it’s strategically significant.

If China controlled Taiwan, Beijing would control what came in and out of the South China Sea, establishing a stranglehold over trillions of dollars worth of shipping. It also would mark the end of the last democratically elected government on Chinese soil.

People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bombers and fighters have made countless encroachments of the island’s airspace in the past few months, crossing over the median line in the middle of the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense reports almost daily incursions on its official Twitter feed. This keeps the Taiwanese psychologically on edge, not knowing the difference between an exercise and the real thing.

Main targets for PLAAF bombers in the event of an invasion would include key government offices and civilian areas in Taipei, the Taiwanese power grid, Taiwanese military command offices and air defenses among others.

Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping remains intent on wearing down the island using gray-zone tactics, including the constant incursions into its territory. Xi believes he can attain a Mao-like status in the Chinese Communist Party by “solving” the Taiwan problem. He hopes to complete China’s military modernization by 2027, and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wrote in Foreign Affairs last month that Xi wants to conquer Taiwan before he leaves office.

The Chinese Communist Party views Taiwan as a rebel province that has eluded its grasp since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The Kuomintang or Nationalists, who previously ruled much of the mainland, escaped to Taiwan under the protection of the U.S. Seventh Fleet.

The government in Taipei considers itself the rightful government of China and refers to itself as the continuation of the “Republic of China,” established following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.

Cross-strait deterrence is the weakest it has been since the Korean War in the early 1950s, Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, told a congressional panel last month. Mastro said that cross-strait Chinese military leaders told her Xi might order an invasion within the next five years.

“With peaceful reunification off the table, Xi’s strategy now is clear: to vastly increase the level of military power that China can exert in the Taiwan Strait, to the extent that the United States would become unwilling to fight a battle that Washington itself judged it would probably lose. Without U.S. backing, Xi believes, Taiwan would either capitulate or fight on its own and lose,” Rudd wrote.

Failure to prevent Taiwan’s violent occupation would undermine whatever faith America’s allies have in U.S. defense guarantees, Rudd said.

The Biden administration must work with its regional allies including Japan, South Korea, and Australia to boost the ability of Taiwanese forces to deny access to the seas and skies around the island.

Last October, the State Department approved the sale of 400 Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles along with 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Launcher Units, 25 radar units, and miscellaneous related items to Taiwan, which can sink People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) landing craft and warships in the event of an invasion. This sale cost an estimated $2.37 billion. It will enhance the Taiwanese ability to inhibit the PLA from landing troops on the island.

The United States should help Taiwan enhance its ability to deploy mines—explosives placed in water to destroy ships or submarines—in the Taiwan Strait to deny the PLAN access to the seas off its coast. Taiwan sees mine warfare as a key aspect of its strategy to keep the PLA from landing soldiers and Marines on its shores. Taiwan only has mines that are usable in deep water and needs to develop “smart mines” that can be deployed in shallow areas to prevent landing craft from reaching the shore.

Mines have been difficult to counter in the history of warfare. Several U.S. warships fell victim to sea mines in the 1980s and 1990s during operations in the Persian Gulf. An Iranian naval mine severely damaged the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts in 1988. Mines also harmed the helicopter carrier USS Tripoli and guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton.

Taiwan’s leaders requested programmable MK-62 Quickstrike mines that can be deployed from the air and in shallow areas from the Trump administration in 2018. The Pentagon should also provide Taiwan with “smart mines” that can work together, forming a “kill web.”

Taiwan currently has eight submarines under construction to replace two Dutch Zwaardvis-class submarines it acquired in the 1980s and World War II-era Tench- and Balao-class boats that it acquired from the United States in 1973. This could cost Taiwan $16 billion. These submarines could threaten the PLAN from the deep waters of the Taiwan Strait. The Biden administration should work with Japan to convince it to provide advanced technology from its Taigei-class diesel submarines, which are among the quietest and best in the world, to Taiwan.

Doing so could enhance Japan’s ability to defend its hold over the disputed Senkaku islands off the Taiwanese coast because of their close proximity to Taiwan. These submarines should be able to deploy mines and sink PLAN ships.

The Biden administration must also work with our allies to upgrade Taiwan’s worthless air defenses. They are made up of Vietnam-vintage Chapparal and Hawk missiles along with Vulcan and land-based Phalanx rotary cannons, normally used to defend U.S. warships.

Taiwan plans to buy 650 Patriot anti-air/anti-missile missiles from the United States by 2027, and the Biden administration must see that happens. Microwave and laser weapons currently under development by the U.S. military should be shared with Taiwan once they are deployable. Taiwan also needs to deploy communications and radar jammers to induce the PLA to waste time and weapons on phantom targets, and the United States and its allies should ensure that the Republic of China Armed Forces have the latest equipment to counter an invasion.

Taiwan must make the PLA’s cost of conquering the island so grave that Xi realizes that invasion is not worth the cost.

John Rossomando is a senior analyst for defense policy at the Center for Security Policy and served as senior analyst for counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.