Beijing left out certain important possibilities and there are many unknown unknowns

by Kris Osborn

Could the Chinese military destroy all of Taiwan’s ground-based air defences and missiles launchers and achieve air and sea superiority in approximately two hours? Could such a quick attack could occur before launching a dual-carrier air attack on the island followed by a successful amphibious landing within twenty-four hours?

This optimistic assessment, however realistic, is the reported result of a computer simulation published by the Chinese government-backed Naval and Merchant Ships magazine.

“The PLA could launch intensive waves of missile and rocket attacks that would neutralize most of Taiwan’s air defence capabilities and airfields within five minutes after the operation starts and PLA warplanes would then seize air superiority,” the simulation finds, as reported by the Chinese government supported Global Times newspaper. 

Additional simulation results published by the magazine include the prediction that two aircraft carriers would “counter foreign intervention” with “suppressive attacks,” creating conditions for an amphibious landing within twenty-four hours. 

“Amphibious landing forces would start the landing operation that would eventually see the entire island under control,” the simulations found. 

Does any of this make sense? Seem realistic? Well, if one were even to concede that the actual results of a full-scale Chinese attempt to take over Taiwan might be very uncertain, particularly in light of the well-known phrase “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy,” the findings do raise a few seemingly obvious questions.

Taking a quick, cursory glance at the scenario results determined or “found” by the simulation, it does seem to “leave out” a few things of relevance. The most glaring finding, perhaps, is that an attacking Chinese force of warplanes and aircraft carriers would quickly “suppress” what the paper called “foreign intervention” seems, at very least, highly questionable. 

U.S. and allied space, surface and air surveillance assets would see attacking Chinese forces well before any attack, offering the opportunity for U.S. Carrier Strike Groups to respond quickly, should they be in the region. A U.S. response could potentially be pressed for time, depending upon how quickly the approaching Chinese hostile forces were seen, and how far U.S. assets were from Taiwan. However, not only does America sustain a consistent Naval presence in the Pacific, and the area near Taiwan in particular, but the U.S. military has many attack platforms based nearby in places such as Guam, a U.S. territory often home to surveillance drones and even bomber aircraft such as the B-2 and B-52. Also, it goes without saying that the United States keeps a close eye on the area with regular bomber patrols and surveillance missions. A claim that attacking Chinese forces would quickly “suppress” any U.S. intervention is, at very least, optimistic if not absurd, based upon any kind of objective analysis. 

Also, the finding that attacking Chinese warplanes could destroy Taiwanese air defences in a few hours also seems highly suspect, as it seems to assume that Taiwan would have no fighter planes and antiquated air defences. The Taiwanese military does have air assets, including fighter planes and helicopters able to counter any kind of attempted amphibious landing. Finally, the exact technical composition of Taiwan’s air defences, early warning radar and land-launched anti-ship missiles may not be fully known. However it does not seem realistic to presume, as the simulation seems to, that they would not be in a position to mount any kind of credible threat to attacking Chinese forces. The Global Times article mentions ongoing Chinese military exercises near Taiwan including H-6 bombers and J-10, J-11 and J-16 fighters. These planes, one could safety assume, would not be completely invulnerable to Taiwanese air defences. Even if China’s new H-20 stealth bomber or fifth-generation stealth J-20s and J-31 fighters attacked, there would not necessarily be any assurance that they would immediately establish air superiority given Taiwanese air defences and air platforms, not to mention any kind of fast U.S. response.