DN - Defence Notes

Taiwan running out of time and men

28th February 2017 - 01:02 GMT | by Wendell Minnick in Taipei


A new RAND report estimated that Taiwan's intelligence community would have four weeks to prepare for a Chinese invasion. The report, 'Transformation of Taiwan's Reserve Force,' stated that Taiwan's ability to defend itself against a Normandy-style invasion is rapidly eroding as the island reduces its force levels.

The four weeks does not include an alternative coercive military campaign to force Taipei into surrendering. For this reason, Taiwan must make fundamental changes to its Armed Forces Reserve Command structure.

The report made recommendations for reserve force roles, missions and capabilities. It also identified potential enabling capabilities and specialist units that Taiwan could incorporate into the reserve force.

The research was sponsored by the Pentagon's Office of the Under Secretary of Defence for Policy. One of the authors was Mark Stokes, who served as senior country director for China and Taiwan in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Bush administration before becoming executive director of the Project 2049 Institute.

Restructuring the reserve forces must go forward for what the report described as an existential threat to the island's inhabitants. Taiwanese defence planners can no longer count on a future Chinese landing at only a limited number of 'preordained' west coast locations. Soon, China will have the capability of conducting amphibious landings 'all around Taiwan and at all levels of depth'.

Ironically, the report stated that part of China's obsession over conquering Taiwan is that Beijing considers Taiwan's democratic system an existential threat to Beijing's one-party dictatorship. Recent presidential and legislative elections saw the first landslide victory of Taiwan's independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party, which further aggravated Beijing's sense of urgency on unifying the island with the mainland.

Part of the problem is that Taiwan's populace has become lethargic over such concerns. Though Taiwan has a large reserve system, theoretically capable of mobilising 2.5 million men to augment its current active duty force of 215,000, it plans to reduce its active duty to 175,000 and eliminate conscription.

This is even more reason that the Reserve Command must develop a new concept that comprises force size, structure, roles, missions, equipment and training, said the research.

The report suggested that Taiwan study reserve force programmes in Finland, Georgia, Japan, Singapore and Switzerland.

Further, Taiwan needs to link reserve force reform and modernisation efforts with leadership statements, arms sales and 'other politically sensitive aspects'. In this way, Taipei can confront Beijing with the stark reality that any invasion would be met with 'overwhelming resistance'.

The US could participate and encourage reform with the establishment of a 'joint reserve force working group', led on the US side by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. This would include regular visits to the US by senior leaders of Taiwan's Reserve Command, and professional military education and technical training in the US for Taiwanese reservists.

Reserve forces should have a bigger role in the annual Han Kuang tri-service military exercise by activating multiple brigades and integrating them into live-fire events with active-duty units. The report also suggested that reservists need to have an active role in augmentation of pilots, missile units and cyber units, which would send a 'clear signal to Beijing that the Taiwan reserves would add considerable capability in mission critical areas'.

Taiwan needs to explore how reserve forces can contribute more during phase one (force preservation) and phase two (joint combat), so that Taiwan does not lose the strategic initiative at the onset of a Chinese attack, said the report. This means that Taiwan's reservist training must match that of active-duty personnel.

This translates into 2-3 weeks annually of intense training. This is an increase from the 5-6 days of basic drills every two years for those at the non-commissioned officer (NCO) level and below. Officers normally only receive seven days of training every two years. Taiwan has approximately 285,000 NCOs and 28,000 junior officers in the reserves.

Time is running out for Taiwan, said the report. The Ministry of National Defense estimates that China will have a 'credible capability to conduct a joint landing campaign to occupy Taiwan by 2020'. If China makes the decision, it can throw 1.5 million ground soldiers at the island via amphibious and airborne assault.

The scenario of an invasion would likely begin with joint air-sea blockades and airstrike operations that include short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and fighter and bomber aircraft.

The second phase would be an amphibious landing and special operations strike teams parachuted inside the island.

The third phase would the 'final fight' on Taiwan, including 'build-up of its coastal lodgements, fight off counterattacks, break into the depth of Taiwan, capture the seat of government and clear out the rest of the island'.

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