Lessons From The Ukraine War Will Influence China’s Taiwan War Planning

China is absorbing the battlefield lessons coming out of the war in Ukraine and carefully analyzing the poor performance of Russian military forces early in the conflict. Beijing’s goal is to identify relevant lessons and apply them to plans for potential military action against Taiwan in the future. The topic was discussed at length during the Aspen Security Forum with senior US military and government officials openly speculating on how Russia’s long war will affect China’s designs for Taiwan. The opinions and comments put forth by US officials have been rather generic and understandably lacking details. CIA Director Bill Burns said yesterday “I suspect the lesson that the Chinese leadership and military are drawing is that you’ve got to amass overwhelming force if you’re going to contemplate that in the future.”

Western military leaders seem obsessed with the prospect of a Chinese invasion. Nearly to the point where other possible scenarios or war plans are ruled out entirely. For the past ten years US general officers and defense secretaries have periodically declared that China is at least 5-10 years away from the point where its military capabilities will support an invasion of Taiwan. And with every year that goes by, China’s military becomes more proficient and better equipped. Yet the 5-10 year window remains unchanged. Earlier this year as the war in Ukraine raged on, the Pentagon changed its tune slightly and estimated the Chinese military will be ready to conduct a cross-strait invasion in the second half of the current decade.

Personally, I believe the PLAN and PLAAF are in a position to conduct operations against Taiwan at the present time. An air and sea blockade could be launched at any time and remain in place indefinitely, barring an effort by an outside force to break the blockade.   It must also be recognized that an air/sea blockade is preferable to a bloody land invasion of Taiwan. If anything, the war in Ukraine has demonstrated the ability of a smaller army to inflict defeats and heavy casualties on a larger and supposedly more powerful foe.

Sino-Indian Border Crisis Drags On

The standoff between India and China along their shared border area in the Himalayan region continues. The mutual troop withdrawals which took place earlier in the year, and subsequent rounds of negotiations, have failed to bring the crisis closer to a conclusion. In fact, negotiations have stalled and do not appear to be going anywhere. India’s attention is not on the northern border at present. The COVID-19 resurgence has gripped the national focus while Sino-Indian relations continue to worsen.

Meanwhile, on the Chinese side of the border, the People’s Liberation Army is reinforcing military positions and rotating troops along the border. The number of soldiers at the border has not changed, but China’s shift to ‘depth-areas’ has made reinforcing the border with additional forces much easier. This makes clear that China is in no hurry to de-escalate tensions. Quite the opposite. China has paid considerable attention to the military infrastructure in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) region. Beijing is constructing roads, military encampments, air defense positions and more. Several PLAAF airbases have increased their ability to bed down more combat aircraft.

India has not responded in kind. Its present forces in the region, including the Galwan Valley, have not been reinforced this year. Nor have they been rotated. Diplomatically, India has not made a major issue of the Chinese military activity. Given the present situation on the sub-continent, it is unlikely to do so any time in the near future.

Author’s Note: Apology for the short post. Allergies have been a major problem this week, but are beginning to improve.

India And China Are Maneuvering For Political and Military Advantages Part I

There has been a considerable amount of maneuvering by the People’s Republic of China, and India over the weekend on the South Asia/Western Pacific gameboard. Each nation-state’s moves are calculated to widen and expand contemporary avenues aimed at mid to long term strategic national goals.

For China, their latest move appears designed to give off the impression of de-escalation in the Ladakh region. The People’s Liberation Army has moved 10,000 of its troops out of rear areas in in the area of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Sources have confirmed the movement from training areas traditionally used by PLA forces in eastern Ladakh, located roughly 100 miles beyond the Indian area of the LAC. The troops had been there since April, a short time before tensions in that area started to rise. It is worth mentioning that although the Chinese troops are departing, their heavy equipment will remain in place.This raises the possibility that the purpose of the move is logistics. Maintaining a large force in a region with such extreme winter weather is difficult, to say the least.  Another caveat to the troop movement is that China is not pulling troops off of the frontline positions. The balance of forces along the LAC will remain unchanged.

Author’s Note: Apologies. Half way through writing this I became slightly ill and have decided to cut the entry short. I will put up a second part on Tuesday. Again, very sorry. Seems like the chemo side effects aren’t entirely out of my system yet.

Air-Sea Battle Spearheads Pentagon Planning For Future Conflicts

With the Iraq commitment now in the past and the end of the Afghan war now in sight, the US military is casting an eye to the future. DOD is becoming serious about preparing new strategic concepts and operational doctrine for the future. The military entered the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as a machine primarily geared for fighting and winning a conventional interstate war. Through nearly twelve years of fluid low intensity conflict, the military continually adapted itself and its doctrines to stay one step ahead of the enemy. In spite of the opinions of some untrained observers, the service branches were all quite successful in doing this.

Now, as OEF winds down, the Pentagon is beginning to focus on the future. Concerted efforts are underway to identify potential battlefields and opponents and determine what tools and doctrines will be needed to fight and win tomorrow’s war.  This is no small undertaking, especially now, with the possibility of large scale defense budget cuts about to become a reality. Pentagon planners are being asked to prepare the force to fight the next war on a shoestring budget. Not intelligent, not very fair, but it’s the reality of the moment.

The first question is: Who will be the most likely opponents on the battlefield tomorrow? From the 1947-48 through to the end of the Cold War in 1991, the primary adversary of the US military was the Soviet Union. Doctrine, weapons design and procurement, training, exercises and planning at almost every level was geared towards a potential fight against the Soviet adversary. If it had come at any point (except for the mid to late 70s, a.k.a the Post Vietnam Malaise Years) the US would have been prepared. That fight never materialized, thankfully enough.

Preparation is more complex in contemporary times. There are a host of potential future adversaries. Political correctness forbids the Pentagon from publicly declaring what specific nations the military is preparing to fight. However, inside the E Ring, it’s generally recognized and accepted that the United States needs to be prepared for an armed conflict with the People’s Republic of China, Iran and North Korea above all. Proof that the Pentagon regards the Iran and the PRC military threats as valid is evident in the still emerging Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept.

ASB is an operational concept that was conceived by the Air Force and Navy in 2009. It is not a doctrine…..at least not yet, and the ASB information available to the public is, understandably, vague and incomplete. In short, ASB revolves around a concerted Joint effort to defeat an enemy’s Anti Access/ Area Denial (A2/AD) weapons systems and tactics. A2/AD centers on an enemy’s ability to deny US military forces the opportunity to project power in a respective combat theater.  China and Iran’s A2/AD capabilities are both robust and becoming more integrated as time goes on. Both nations would benefit exponentially from a successful A2/AD campaign against the US in a future conflict. Keeping American military power at arms-length in the Western Pacific would give China a free hand to use against Taiwan. In the Persian Gulf, Iranian A2/AD efforts would focus on denying US forces the use of  air and sea space around the Straits of Hormuz.

Naval and air forces will form the core of an anti- A2/AD effort. However, the US Army and Marine Corps are being brought into the concept too. The Army’s main contribution is with theater and area air defense assets. The Marines effort appears to be less defined, but in all probability will include its formidable air power.

ASB is far from a finished product, yet it does prove that the Pentagon is moving away from the low intensity conflict mindset and beginning to focus on the more conventional threats that US forces are facing now and will face in the near future.

China’s Shifting Nuclear Posture: An Ominous Sign Of Things To Come?

For decades People’s Republic of China has accepted the inferiority of it’s strategic ( ie nuclear) forces when compared to those of the United States and Russia. The relatively small size of China’s nuclear arsenal, coupled with the limited amount of damage it could inflict upon an enemy led many experts over the years to question China’s beliefs about nuclear warfare as well as its strategy for fighting one. The overall consensus is that since China exploded its first atomic bomb, the nation’s nuclear posture has been one of minimal deterrence.  In recent years the questions have become louder as China’s nuclear forces undergo modernization and expansion. As a consequence of this, China’s nuclear posture will inevitably shift away from minimal deterrence to one which offers more flexibility and options.

Minimal deterrence is a Western term not frequently used in Chinese military and political circles. In application, minimal deterrence is a doctrine in which a state possesses only enough nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear adversary from undertaking a first strike. It revolves around a no first use policy and the principle that the primary role of nuclear weapons is deterrence. The small size of a state’s nuclear arsenal severely limits the second strike options available to its leadership in the event of an attack. A counterforce second strike is not feasible under minimal deterrence. The only viable option then, is a countervalue second strike aimed at an enemy’s population centers. Realistically then, minimal deterrence can only be achieved if the survivability of a state’s nuclear force can be guaranteed.

China’s strategic modernization appears to be the result of a political decision to make China’s nuclear force more survivable in the face of US strategic upgrades.  For years the primary component of Chinese nuclear forces was the liquid fueled, silo based DF-5A ICBM. This is changing now as the more survivable DF-31A had come into service. The DF-31A is a solid fueled missile based on a mobile launch system. Hence, it is not restricted to a stationary launch site and can be readied in minimal time, unlike its liquid fueled counterparts.

China’s strategic modernization is not confined to land. At sea, the single Xia class SSBN which was in service since the mid 80s has been withdrawn. The PLAN is replacing it with the Type 094 (Jin Class) ballistic missile submarine. The Type 094 is a marked upgrade from the Xia. As many as five boats are planned and at present possibly up to three boats are already in service.

The modernization of China’s nuclear forces is paralleling upgrades to the conventional forces. US interest and concern is high. The primary question at the moment is: what do the new capabilities in Chinese nuclear forces tell of China’s future intentions?

For the moment it is apparent that minimal deterrence is fast becoming an obsolete doctrine for the People’s Republic of China.