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Taiwan Anticipated Many of the Lessons of the War in Ukraine

September 12, 2022

Recent Taiwanese military exercises indicate that Taipei has anticipated many of the most important lessons of the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, and has also been addressing issues more specific to its precarious security situation. U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley advised the ROC to assimilate promptly the insights from the Ukraine War. These lessons include the importance of strategic political intelligence to avert a surprise attack, surveillance by Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV), and their principal counter-measures including electronic warfare and local air defense; the persisting importance of combined arms warfare, the use of precision artillery, and the exploitation of built-up terrain with light troops equipped with anti-tank systems; logistics; and the economic, social and political preparation for a long war.

In recent months, Taiwan has become concerned about the threat value of the people’s Republic of China’s (PRC) People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s (PLAAF)’s top to bottom modernization that has given Beijing the ability to conduct limited anti-access and air denial (A2/AD) operations in the South China Sea, and with the potential to create a regional blockade around the island. Recent exercises around Taiwan show that the PLA is forging ahead with an emphasis on network-centric warfare and information operations to coordinate the PLA units of its different elements, in particular between its naval platforms and aircraft.

Taiwan’s current defense framework, introduced by former Republic of China (ROC) Deputy Minister of National Defense, Admiral Lee Hsi-ming 李喜明 between 2016 to 2020, emphasizes force preservation, coastal victory, and beach landing denial 戰力防護、濱海決勝、灘岸殲敵. This entails a rapid movement and concentration of land units while under interdiction, and surviving air and sea units, to contain and then counter-attack against a specific beach landing. This is in contradistinction from a more stable and proven practice of relying on a defense-in-depth to wear down an attack as it builds-up and pushes inland. However, Taiwan is counting on a joint land-sea-air attack to deliver a shock to Chinese amphibious, airborne and heliborne forces, before they are able to consolidate. Taiwan validates its operational doctrines through its annual Han Kuang Exercises 漢光演習.

During the 2018’s Han Kuang 34, commercial drones were used for the first time by Taiwan, in addition to public SMS notifications on aerial threat warnings. In 2019, the emphasis was placed on the use of highway strips as emergency runways as a counter to China’s concentrated targeting of Taiwanese airbases with land-based missiles. That year, Taiwan also explored concepts of asymmetric warfare, combined arms combat aimed at coastal denial, and civilian cooperation in communications, civil defense, and evacuation drills.

In 2020, while retaining the core strategy of force preservation, in order to resist Chinese tactics intended to inflict attrition and pin down Taiwanese land forces, Han Kuang 36 examined the use of joint air defense battalions to protect high-value infrastructure. Taiwan has a missile defense density higher than that of South Korea or Japan, and second to only Israel, although the survivability of these systems are difficult to ascertain. The exercise also notably incorporated Taiwan’s cross-strait long-range precision strike capabilities, using the Hsiung Feng II 雄風二型, and the supersonic Hsiung Feng III 雄風三型, anti-ship missiles, in joint operations between the navy and air force.

The first post-pandemic exercise, Han Kuang 38, was held on July 25, 2022, with the location of the exercises chosen to simulate multiple a response scenario against a principal and diversionary amphibious landing, with a joint focus on adapting to C2 (command and control) disruption inflicted by Chinese jamming and strikes. The settings ranged from the northeastern area – Taipei’s Songshan Airport, Hsinchu, to the northern cities Taichung and Chiayi, to the southern area around Tainan, Pingtung, and the eastern coastal cities Hualien, and Taitung. These included a focus on artillery units’ readiness by training with live D-485 HE rounds to simulate landing beach denial against PLA’s amphibious operations.

The 2022 Han Kuang 38 exercise responded to a need to prepare given the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) increased use of realistic combat-oriented exercises, modernization, heightened recruitment, and improved restructuration. Counter A2/AD air defense simulations were conducted around Taipei to maintain its defense capabilities against a first-wave missile strikes from the Chinese mainland and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships and submarines. Live fire, marines amphibious maneuvers, urban warfare preparations, special forces and airborne coordination, were also conducted to simulate a near-real invasion scenario. Taiwan has taken preparation for real war seriously, as evinced by its emphasis on cross-element (land, sea, air) training, inter-unit synergy and coordination, which is in effect combined arms warfare on the strategic level.

Besides seeking to improve the readiness of its military defense posture through the step-level intensification of the Han Kuang exercises, Taiwan is also intending to send a strategic deterrent message to Xi Jinping’s cell of policy decision-makers. This is especially important given that Taiwan’s investment in its defense may not be enough to deter a decision by Chinese Communist Party Secretary General Xi Jinping to invade: China may not wait until it has a significant force advantage, and may make its move instead based on domestic political issues.

There remain major three major areas of military investments where expected payoffs for Taiwan lend urgency to the effort. First, the ROC needs international ship-building assistance to accelerate its sub-surface deterrence and its indigenous defense submarine (IDS) program. The ROC’s current sub-surface combatants are limited to 2 Hai Lung class and 2 Hai Shih Guppy II class submarines. An unlocated Taiwanese sub-surface force would compel the PLAN’s vulnerable Amphibious LPDs to deploy father offshore, discharging their landing units father from their landing beaches.

Second, Taiwan’s investment in Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) lags behind that of other similarly threatened middle-sized democracies under threat, like South Korea. One of the clear highlights of the War in Ukraine is the role of Electronic Counter Measure –resistant artillery reconnaissance and strike drones. Third, in order to survive the initial missile strikes and A2/AD capabilities, the ROC needs more underground megastructures for force preservation to prevent C3 denial. Taiwan already has an extensive civil defense shelter system, and now it needs a network along the Taiwanese littoral for ground force survivability.


Dr. Julian Spencer-Churchill is an associate professor of international relations at Concordia University (Montreal) along with Liu Zongzo.

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.
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