Why does tiny Taiwan pack a punch?

Taiwan is building harden shelters for its new F-16V Block 70/72 4.5 Generation aircraft. Source MoD Taiwan.

On October 1, China celebrated its National Day by sending fighter jets, bombers, and other warplanes in menacing formations off the southern end of Taiwan. The flights continued day and night for the following four days, with one massive formation of 56 planes testing Taiwan’s air defenses on October 3, reported CNN news.

Tensions between Taiwan and mainland China have flared in recent months. The People’s Liberation Army sends warplanes to harass the island almost daily, and U.S. experts warn of a potential conflict across the Taiwan Strait.

According to the defense ministry, between September 16 last year and July 31, Chinese aircraft made 554 sorties into Taiwan’s ADIZ.

Can tinny Taiwan deter a full-scale invasion by PRC?

The Taiwanese military is made up of 290,000 personnel, 130,000 in the Army, 45,000 in the Navy and Marine Corps, and 80,000 in the Air Force.

Taiwan spends almost 2% of its GDP on the military, worth $13 billion. Taiwan is ranked 22 of 140 out of the countries considered for the annual GFP review.

Deterring PLA Air Force

During Kashmir Skirmish, the Indian Air Force’s Su-30MKI, an advanced derivative of Su-30 aircraft, didn’t win a fight against the Pakistani F-16 C variant.

However, Taiwan has deployed the most advanced version of the F-16V Block 72 fighter jet in its air force, as the self-ruled island steps up its defense capabilities in the face of continuing threats from China, which claims it as part of its territory. Armed with AIM-120 AMRAAM, F-16V pack a punch against Chinese J-16, J-10C, J-11 and Su-30 aircraft.

The Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi Su-30MKIs on a sortie in the Northeast managed to track Chengdu J-20 fighters being operated by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force over Tibet. If Su-30MKI’s phased array radar can track Chinese J-20, then Taiwanese F-16V Block 72 can deter Chinese J-20 fighters using its long-range APG-83 AESA radar and struck J-20 with AIM-120 AMRAAM.

Deterring PLA Navy

To defeat a Chinese invasion fleet, the Taiwanese military would need to sink half of the attacking ships. But sinking potentially hundreds of vessels would require an arsenal of no fewer than 1,200 anti-ship missiles.

Deputy Defense Minister Zhang Zheping last spring said Taiwan’s current stockpile of anti-ship missiles would leave afloat too many Chinese ships to prevent a takeover by Beijing. So in May, Taipei announced it would spend $2.4 billion buying ground-launched, 100 miles range Harpoon missiles from U.S. defense firm Boeing.

The 400 Harpoons, fired by 100 truck-mounted quad-launchers supported by 25 mobile radars, would grow the Taiwanese anti-ship missile arsenal by half to 1,200 rounds. Locally-made Hsiung Feng II and Hsiung Feng III missiles and older Harpoon models would make up the balance.

If Taipei’s calculations are sound, those 1,200 missiles should be sufficient to sink hundreds of Chinese ships and stop an invasion attempt cold.

Taiwan is also building modern submarines and stealth warships to counter China.

Deterring PLA Army

Taiwan possesses large stockpiles of PAC-3 anti-ballistic missiles that will intercept Chinese ballistic missiles. The U.S. marines and special forces mostly train the Taiwanese Army. Should the PLA army ever venture into the shores of Taiwan, the PLA army will face robust resistance from the highly-trained Taiwanese Army.

Offensive capability 

Taiwan is armed with a long-range M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), reaching mainland China. Its high-explosive warheads could destroy Chinese military assets based in Xiamen, Quanzhou, Chaozhou and Fuzhou.

If Taiwan places its HIMARS in Kinmen island, which is just a few kilometers from China, then Taiwan could inflict heavy losses for China.

Taiwan has upgraded its six E-2K Hawkeye early warning aircraft to the E-2D level. The Taiwanese Air Force is considering purchasing additional six E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes (AHE) early warning aircraft. Combination of E-2D Hawkeye and F-16V, Taiwan could strike mainland China if a full-scale war broke between Taiwan and China.

One of the major new functionalities will be to allow the E-2D radar to capture all flying objects within a radius of 550 kilometers and vessels within a radius of 350 km. Even the most advanced Chinese jets like the J-20 and the J-31 will not escape its eye.

Suppose China is dragged into a war with multiple nations such as India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Australia and the U.S. In that case, Taiwan could thwart a full-scale invasion by China.

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