Friday, May 27, 2022

Battling China’s ‘Asymmetric Threats’, Taiwan Looks To Acquire US Decommissioned Warship To Defend Its ‘Independence’

To defend itself from a possible Chinese invasion, Taiwan is considering buying the decommissioned US warship USS Independence, a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) that saw just 11 years of service.

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Besides being one of the several advanced weapons platforms that the US military rues were dumped on it by a privatized and profiteering Military-Industrial Complex (MIC), it also has little to no potential to defend itself from the ‘asymmetric’ military threat that China poses.

Pentagon-commissioned wargames by the Rand Corporation have repeatedly shown devastating US defeats, where China overwhelms the US and Taiwanese defenses with thousands of small civilian and military boats, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), and missiles across the 90-mile distance, clearing a path for amphibious forces to land and begin the invasion.

Thus, legacy platforms like aircraft carriers, 66 F-16V, or 108 M-1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks (MBT) that Taiwan has acquired cannot counter such an unconventional assault.

This is not to mention that the Chinese will aim at wrapping up at least the initial phase of the invasion swiftly before the US intervenes to prevent a larger conflagration, that might even draw in neighboring South Korea and Japan.

F-16-VIPER

The island sits on a powder keg of three flashpoints along – the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait itself, and the South China Sea (SCS), with China a party in all three.

Even if the US does intervene, it can’t sustain a prolonged war owing to logistical difficulties stemming from its “away” disadvantage, according to former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence David A. Ochmanek.

China’s Cost-Effective Strategy

Worse, a Taiwanese solution to this very problem is resisted by camps in its Ministry of National Defense (MND) and military leadership, who continue to overlook it for the swanky platforms, as is evident from USS Independence procurement.

Called the Overall Defence Concept (ODC) by its creator Admiral Lee Hsin-min (Retd), Republic of China’s former Chief of General Staff, it recommends asymmetric and low-cost weapons against the swarm that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is capable of unleashing.

China-missile boat
PLA Navy’s fast attack missile boats during an exercise in the East China Sea on February 22, 2022.

These include large inventories of advanced UAVs for target acquisition, data linking, early-warning, mobile radar roles, and tactical reconnaissance; low-cost short-range precision-guided munitions; stealth fast attack crafts and small missile boats dispersed and hidden across the island’s 200 fishing ports; flexible sea mine systems that can be dropped by even non-specialized mine-layers; a massive array of quick reaction short and medium-range surface-to-air missiles; Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems (HCDS) to take out ships; large batteries of its own highly capable Hsiung Feng III land attack-cum-anti-ship missile; Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPAD) and; High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).

Largely based on ‘fighting a swarm with a swarm’, it practically affects a regular military (Taiwan’s) fighting a prolonged guerrilla war at a strategic level in a multi-layered campaign of attrition.

Despite the doctrine more suited for Taiwan’s threat environment, Michael Hunzeker, an assistant professor at George Mason University’s School of Policy and Government, laments Taiwan’s civilian and defense establishment that opposes it.

Testifying before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in February 2021, he said they are driven by “interpersonal animosity, principled disagreement or bureaucratic inertia.”

Taiwan’s Defense Reforms To Tackle China

Taiwan too has its political exigencies. For one, eye-grabbing and menacing-looking F-16 jets, or M-109 Paladin Self-Propelled Howitzers (SPH) serve as a more reliable symbol of security before citizens, unlike low-key platforms like naval attack crafts or drones.

The US Navy's littoral combat ship USS Independence. (Wikipedia)
The US Navy’s littoral combat ship USS Independence. (Wikipedia)

Undertaking the kind of massive defense reforms to implement the ODC might also put the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) on a warpath with its rival Kuomintang (KMT), which has often favored reconciling and reuniting with China.

Moreover, pushing for the ODC implies telling the Taiwanese people to live under a constant threat of an invasion, jeopardizing the ruling dispensation’s political fortunes.

China missiles
File Image: A technician from the PLA Western Theater Command is fixing missiles to a transportation vehicle during an emergency support exercise held at a high-altitude aerodrome in late January, 2022. (China Military Online)

As for the USS Independence, it was quietly decommissioned in July 2021, while the other LCS boat, the lead-class USS Freedom was decommissioned on September 29 of the same year.

Independence’s sister trimaran-hull ship Coronado and other Freedom-class vessels, including the Fort Worth, Detroit, and Little Rock are being pushed by the US Navy to be retired in its 2022 budget – after joining service as recently as 2014, 2012, 2016, and 2017 respectively.

The USS Zumwalt and the F-35 are legendary in their fall from grace before the US military – the ultra-sophistication and resultant astronomical price tags and cost overruns rather became an impediment in conventional warfare.

US military leaders rather admit their handicap before the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) weapons fielded by Russia and China.

That Taiwan announced its interest in the Independence just days before six US lawmakers visited the country on April 15 only bares the political economy of free-market capitalism, which rather erodes military capability. The war in Ukraine has upturned every conventional military and strategic wisdom.

Those unwilling to draw the technological, political, and economic lessons while continuing down the beaten path are in for a rude shock.

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