The rearmament of Taiwan, between China and the United States

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

The rise to power of Donald Trump and the much more assertive new geopolitical course that characterizes Xi Jinping's government in the People's Republic of China and the substantial deterioration of Sino-US relations following the so-called "War of Duties", quickly brought the Taiwan issue (or rather, the "Contention of the two Cines") at the center of world attention.

One of the main dilemmas affecting strategists and analysts around the world is: if and when the People's Republic of China will decide to abandon its traditional wait-and-see policy and move on to de facto attempts to suppress Taiwan's "de facto" independence and to reach the long-awaited "complete reunification of the Middle Empire". Unfortunately from this point of view the forecasts do not promise anything good because in the last few years the opinions expressed by Chinese and Taiwanese analysts are all turning towards "the inevitability of the clash", identified by many over the next decade.

Taiwan's political and military leadership took such warnings very seriously, especially since the rise of President Tsai Ing-wen who has opted for increased military spending to grow the Taiwanese military instrument both from the point of qualitative rather than quantitative view. This impressive modernization, which began in the 2016 and which should end in the 2030, will for the first time affect all the branches in which the armed forces are divided of what, formally and constitutionally, is still known as the "Republic of China" and not just some of them as has been the practice for the last 30 years.

Since the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo (photo) in the 1988 and with the establishment of democracy in fact, the Taiwanese society has been partly "demilitarized" and the armed forces of "nationalist China" have not only changed their operational posture, from offensive to defensive, but they have also seen a gradual reduction in both numbers and the number of vehicles. The events of the last period have marked a profound U-turn and the same United States, previously essentially lukewarm, have now reported not only the total support for rearmament plans but also the willingness to flesh out the arsenals of "nationalist China" for don't let her lose the "technological margin" against her rival "Communist China".

Finally, it is necessary to note that the modernization of the military forces of the so-called "Rebel Island" also passes through a rethinking of the training and military doctrine of the armed forces where they are preparing to face a double war of both symmetrical and asymmetrical nature to depending on the evolution that the future conflict will take.

Traditionally the "Armed Forces of the Republic of China" are made up of 6 autonomous branches and dependent 1: the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Military Police, the Unified Logistics Command and the Reserve Forces, while the Marine Corps is dependent on the Navy. Leaving aside the Military Police, the Unified Logistics Command and the Reserve Forces, which will also be subject to modernization and upgrading, we will now focus our attention on the expansion plans of the Air Force, the Navy and the Army. By virtue of its ability to hit from the sky and degrade the military capabilities of a hypothetical Chinese attack wave before it reaches the shores of Taiwan, the Air Force represents both the main instrument of attack and the first line of defense of the Republic of China.

The main core of the Air Force is currently made up of 380 high-performance combat aircraft:

-55 Northrop F-5E / F / RF-5E Tiger II;

-142 General Dynamics F-16A / B Block 20 Fighting Falcon;

-128 ADIC F-CK-1C / D Ching-kuo (photo);

-55 Mirage 2000-5EI / DI.

86 armored trainers are also available:

-49 AIDC AT-3 Tzu Chung;

-37 Beechcraft T-34 Mentor.

For air-to-air missions, Taiwanese jets use a wide range of missiles, both American WVR (Within Visual Range) and BVR (Beyond Visual Range) (AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-120 AMRAAM of various versions) French (R.550 Magic II and MBDA MICA) and national (Sky Sword I and Sky Sword II also in various versions). With the exception of the Mirage 2000 which are compatible only with French-made armaments and whose modernization is giving Taiwanese troops many problems, F-5, F-16 and AIDC F-CK-1 have all proved flexible and easily upgradeable airplanes and have been approved for the use of the entire range of American and national production weapons supplied to Taiwan.

Of particular importance is the Sky Sword II air-to-air missile, a BVR device which in its "TC-2" version represents the only truly hypersonic air-to-air missile in the world today (its real performance is strictly classified, but rumors say that it is able to travel at speeds between Mach 10 and Mach 15 which, if confirmed, would make it the fastest air-to-air missile in the world).

In addition to air defense missions, the Taiwanese jets would then carry out precision bombardment missions using "intelligent" devices of American origin (Paveway laser guided bombs, AGM-154 stand-off bombs Joint Stand-off Weapons and electro-guided missiles). AGM-65 Maverick optics) and national-designed Wen Chien missiles, anti-radiation missions using AGM-88 HARM and Taiwanese TC-2A missiles and anti-ship missions using the American AGM-84 Harpoon and the Taiwanese Hsiung Feng missile family from many considered among the best anti-ship and cruise missiles deployed in the world.

In light of the looming threat represented by both numerical and technological growth of Chinese air forces, the Taipei authorities have decided to increase the number of aircraft available to their own Aeronautics and to approve specific update programs for all the categories of aircraft mentioned above.

To reinforce its 142 General Dynamics F-16A / B Block 20 Fighting Falcon line, at the end of the 2018 the Taiwanese government decided to buy the newly built 66 F-16C / D Block 50 / 52, also by the end of the 2023 , all 208 aircraft will be updated to the Lockheed F-16V Viper standard with the new and powerful AN / APG-83 radar with AESA features and a new on-board electronic suite and ECCM systems. As for the 128 AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-kuo, they have all been updated to the C / D standard and the integration of new air-to-ground weapon systems such as national-design missiles is underway Wen Chien and the aforementioned air-air Sky Sword. Furthermore, the Taiwanese defense industries have announced that a new version for large-scale production called AIDC F-CK-2 will soon be presented. But the most interesting program concerns, paradoxically, the F-5E / F / RF-5E still in service and which are now preparing to live literally, a "new youth". Real veterans of the Taiwanese Air Force, the F-5 were purchased or produced under license starting from the 1965 in the F-5A / B Freedom Fighter and F-5E / F / RF-5E Tiger II versions for total 446 specimens representing the backbone of the island's air forces until the early '90.

Today only 55 F-5E / F / RF-5E are still in service and 90-100 F-5E / F are kept in reserve while all the others have been distributed among the various Taiwanese bases to act as "decoy" in case of Chinese attack thus saving the most valuable modern fighters. However it seems that the political and military authorities of the island are returning to their original directives and have decided to dust off a modernization program called "Tiger 2000 / 2001" under which the USAF would commit to finding spare parts in order to allow the recovery of the greatest possible number of F-5 that would then be updated by the AIDC to the standard "Tiger 2000 / 2001" by installing the GD-53 radar of the Ching-kuo fighters and a new electronic equipment that would allow the " featherweight "of Northrop to also be able to use Sky Sword II missiles from the aforementioned TC-2 variant. If this program were to be completed in its entirety, this would give enormous impetus to Taipei's air defense capabilities.

Finally, with regard to the 55 Mirage 2000-5EI / DI, despite their incompatibility with all weapon systems other than those of French production and despite their maintenance costs are significantly higher than those of all other aircraft by fighting in service in Taiwan, the excellent flight performance and popularity among pilots finally made the authorities opt to maintain them in service although some voices spoke of their upcoming and premature radiation. In any case, given their "peculiarities", French aircraft will likely be relegated to the pure and simple role of air defense using the R.550 Magic II and MBDA MICA missiles.

If the programs related to the Air Force are ambitious, those of the Navy are simply impressive.

Currently, the Republic of China Navy has 117 naval units of different sizes and is about to receive some frigates from the United States. Furthermore, according to recently announced plans, by the 2030 all ships currently in service will be dismantled and replaced by a completely new fleet which should have at least twice as many numbers as it currently has.

One of the flagship programs of the Navy is to replace the 4 submarines currently in service (2 of the "Hai Shih class" and 2 of the "Hai Lung class") with 8 new submarines made in Taiwan with American, Japanese and European assistance .

As for the surface fleet, it will be entirely built in Taiwan following indigenous projects without external support and will present a balance between large units suitable for traditional war operations (destroyers, frigates, corvettes, amphibious ships, support vessels, etc.). ...) and smaller naval units suitable for asymmetric warfare operations (missile truckers, armed patrol boats, torpedo boats, etc.). Moreover, given the exponential growth of the Chinese air forces and the capacity of cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles used by them, the new Taipei naval units will be equipped with an innovative AEGIS-type anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system designed locally.

In a hypothetical conflict scenario, the Navy forces would have the task, together with those of the Air Force, of preventing the enemy from taking control of the waters of the Taiwan Strait and of attacking and degrading the Chinese attack force before it can set foot on Taiwanese soil; moreover, the task of leading the counter-attack to free any portions of the territory of the Republic of China that would fall into the hands of the People's Republic of China would still be up to the Navy.

The Army then closes the circle, which has sent a formal request to the United States Department of Defense for a 2,6 billion dollar contract which, specifically, should cover the purchase of 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks with a total value of 2 billions of dollars, 1240 anti-tank missiles TOW with a total value of 299 million dollars, 409 missile anti-tank missiles from 129 million dollars and 250 Stinger surface-to-air missiles from 223 million dollars. This initiative is the latest in a series of rearmament plans that led, in recent years, for example, to purchase 30 Boeing AH-64E Apache combat helicopters and to modernize the armored vehicle fleet, among which the program deserves to be mentioned. to upgrade the old M48 Patton to the new CM-12 and CM-11 "Brave Tiger" standards.

Finally, it should be noted that the Marine Corps (recently moved to the suburbs of Taipei city) will receive an unspecified number of M60 Patton tanks to enable them to engage and defeat any attempt at "sudden decapitating attack" through airborne divisions and brigades of special forces in case the communist China decided to directly hit the president and the government of the rebel island.

We can therefore understand how, on the opposite shores of the Taiwan Strait, the contenders are preparing the arsenals and sharpening the knives in view of the inevitable final clash while the Italian politicians observe the whole with a squint and a lack of attention that can hardly be explained in rational terms .

Photo: Ministry of National Defense ROC / J. Patrick Fischer / RudolphChen / ROC Air Force / ROC Navy / web