The moment of truth involving war where China and the United States, the Philippines and Taiwan are the actors, does not depend merely on the strategic location of the Bashi Channel, as we have discussed in the first part of this series.
The Bashi scenario is too WorldWarII-ish.
In the first place, the Chinese have built seven artificial islands in the South China Sea, creating more than 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of new land since 2013, according to the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
Of these, China has fully militarized at least three of islands arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment and fighter jets.
A satellite image taken on November 4, 2022 by Maxar Technologies shows a land formation at Eldad Reef in the Spratly Islands in the disputed SCS. Besides, China is also constructing artificial islands at three other places- Lankiam Cay (Panata Island), Whitsun Reef (Julian Felipe Reef), and Sandy Cay. All four are unoccupied islands.
I believe these islands were reclaimed and fortified by China precisely to protect its “soft-belly” that has been the point of entry of 475 invasions of different parts of its mainland at different times in its history.
Thereupon, they have no bearing on the Taiwan issue, and by themselves can already enforce the entire South China Seas to be a security lake. Suffice it to say, that necessarily contradicts especially the claims of both Taiwan and Vietnam which also claims the entirety of the South China Seas.
Control of the Bashi Channel also cannot be considered to be a unique deterrent to the occupation or defense of Taiwan in the event of China-Taiwan armed confrontation.
Taiwan’s given weaknesses
There are many reasons why Taiwan could be vulnerable.
The Guardian said last month that China would probably establish air superiority very rapidly in any attack on Taiwan, based on leaked US intelligence assessments that raise disturbing questions about the self-ruled island’s military readiness.
The documents, part of a series allegedly leaked by the US air national guardsman Jack Teixeira, emerged as G7 foreign ministers met to discuss a common China strategy and Beijing briefly halted flights over part of the East China Sea on Sunday.
According to the Washington Post who has seen the classified documents, Taiwan’s military leaders doubt their air defenses can “accurately detect missile launches” and that only about half of the island’s aircraft are capable of effectively engaging the enemy.
The documents also said Taiwan feared moving its aircraft to shelters could take up to a week, leaving them vulnerable to missile strikes, and that China’s use of civilian ships for military purposes was hampering US intelligence’s ability to predict an invasion.
Further, Pentagon analysts concluded China’s air force would find it far easier to establish early air superiority than Russia did in its invasion of Ukraine. China outnumbers Taiwan with over 2,921 warplanes, including the J-20s. Taipei is reported to have 744 aircraft in its arsenal.
China has a massive fleet of 86 naval ships and 59 submarines, whereas, Taiwan operates 26 naval ships and just four submarines.
Taiwan has 650 tanks to defend against China’s 4,800 tanks. In terms of self-propelled artillery, China’s fleet consists of 9,550 compared to Taiwan’s 2,093. China has the largest armed forces in the world by active duty military personnel, with over two million active soldiers and 510,000 in reserve.
Taiwan, in comparison, has 169,000-strong active military personnel and is currently backed by some 1.66 million “civilian warriors”, according to data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
But where China can be sure that its policy of active defense is enforceable is in none of the above.
That readiness was witnessed by the world after the Peoples Liberation Army began an unprecedented, three-day-long war games in the waters around Taiwan, following president Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with House speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.
Beijing simulated a complete attack on the island from missile bombardment to sealing off the island by blocking sea and air traffic. The war games not only serve as intimidation, but also as an opportunity for the Chinese troops to practice locking the island in case of an actual attack.
Beijing had reacted in a similar manner to former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in 2022. The military harassment has only grown since then with China flying record numbers of aircraft into Taiwan’s airspace.
Of course, the drills have been condemned by Japan and the US – one of Taiwan’s strongest allies, but it appeared as if an actual invasion occurred, the self-ruled island would be locked out within hours, not days.
The real threat to any interfering third parties is China’s Dong Feng missile system.
From the DF-15 tests before the turn of the century that we mentioned earlier, it has achieved leaps and bounds, even in nuclear-preparedness, that has surpassed American capability.
It has developed superior ICBMs.
The DF-31 has range of 8,000+ km, and can carry a single 1,000 kt warhead, or up to three 20-150 kt MIRV warheads. An improved version, the DF-31A, has range of 11,000+ km, far enough to reach Los Angeles from Beijing.
The DF-41 (CSS-20), capable of being armed with ten or twelve MIRV warheads, is China’s newest addition to its nuclear arsenal. With an estimated range between up to 15,000 km, it can reach the Atlantic Ocean from Beijing across the Pacific Ocean, surpassing New York City. It is believed to exceed the range of the US’s LGM-30 Minuteman ICBM to become the world’s longest-range missile.
A multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) is an exo-atmospheric ballistic missile payload carrying multiple warheads that can be aimed at different targets within the same area. This is a technology China shares with Russia and the US that led to a major change in the strategic balance.
Previously, with one warhead per missile, it was conceivable that one could build a defense that used missiles to attack individual warheads. Any increase in missile fleet by the enemy could be countered by a similar increase in interceptors. With MIRV, a single new enemy missile meant that multiple interceptors would have to be built, meaning that it was much less expensive to increase the attack than the defense.
But China has improved the MIRV technology with Maneuverable Reentry Vehicles or MARV, which are capable of maneuvering during reentry, increasing accuracy against fixed and moving targets, and even allowing warheads to avoid interception by missile defense systems.
According to the Department of Defense’s 2022 Annual Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, China’s ballistic missile arsenal contains around 600+ SRBMs, 500+ MRBMs, 250+ IRBMs, and 300 ICBMs.
In June 2022, a DOD report on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) indicated that China possesses 400 DF-26 intermediate-Range Ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The DOD estimates that the DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, rendering it capable of striking Guam, giving it the nickname “Guam Killer” by Chinese media.
On August 4, 2022, China began a three-day exercise in which they launched 11 ballistic missiles. This came after Pelosi visited Taiwan against the multiple threats from Chinese leadership.
If readers are interested in China’s menu of Dong Feng missile technology, I suggest this link written by Americans based in Alexandria, Virginia – https://missiledefenseadvocacy.org/missile-threat-and-proliferation/todays-missile-threat/china/
China’s Hypersonics vs US Broken Arrow
But where it is leading the world is in the field of hypersonic missiles, ultra-high-speed weapons that fly along the edge of space and accelerate between Mach 5 and Mach 10. Given their rate of speed and non-ballistic trajectory, hypersonic weapons are difficult for current ballistic missile defense systems to intercept. Additionally, their low flight altitude prevents detection by terrestrial-based radars, as they are blocked by the curvature of the earth.
Since 2014, China has carried out several tests of its hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). The HGV, the DF-ZF, can be configured to carry a nuclear or conventional warhead and China claims it is precise enough travelling ten times the speed of sound, to attack ships at sea thereby earning the title of “Ship-Killer”.
Currently, the DF-ZF is carried by the DF-17 HGV-armed MRBM, which was first fielded in 2020.
China continues to develop its hypersonic weapon technology, with the testing of an ICBM-range HGV that traveled 40,000km in July 2021, flying around the world and barely missing a target back in China.
One leaked Pentagon intelligence document obtained by Navy Times, shows that Beijing tested a hypersonic missile this year that could hit targets beyond Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam and carry a “high probability” of besting American ballistic missile defenses – “Beijing’s February test saw the DF-27 cover 2,100 kilometers, or 1,300 miles, in just 12 minutes.”
The Pentagon believes that land attack and antiship variants have already been deployed as its own assessments have warned of even longer DF-27 ranges.”
This is significant because Breaking Defense echoed an earlier Bloomberg expose: “After a rocky development and a recent failed test, the Air Force has decided it will not go on to buy the hypersonic Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW)… Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter said in a written statement to the House Armed Service’s tactical air and land forces subcommittee.”
In another Navy Times update, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command leader Adm. John Aquilino admitted the Pentagon is behind Beijing on hypersonic weapons and the systems to defend against them, agreeing that progress “needs to go faster.” The man charged with potentially leading a war against the ascendant power called the velocity of China’s nuclear breakout “concerning,” but said direct conflict is not inevitable.
China’s radius of defense can be delivered by the DF 17 in and beyond the First Island Chain to as far as 2,000 kms and by DF 27 beyond the Second Island Chain to as far as 8,000 kms designated by China under its active defense doctrine.
This means the PLA can stage any preemptive attack on any approaching threat by air and water, or any stationary threat on land, even without launching a single ship, submarine or aircraft of its own.
That is the clear and present danger China’s advance weaponry poses on any enemy.
To be Continued. Next part: Why the Americans need the EDCA bases and Why We cannot allow them to stay.
WATCH: Here’s How China DF-17 Hypersonic Missiles Can Sink US Aircraft Carriers