Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Dr. James Holmes: The Naval Diplomat - 19FortyFive

Attack Beijing or an Invasion Fleet? How Taiwan Should Use Its Cruise Missiles

Taiwan
Missile Launcher in Taiwan. Image: Creative Commons.

To what end? That’s a timeless question military folk and their political masters should ask themselves before crowing about their ability to wield this or that weapon to do this or that in wartime. A refresher on the political uses of arms may be in order in the case of Taiwan.

Over at The War Zone, Emma Helfrich reports that You Si Kun, the president of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, or elected assembly, gave a speech earlier this month touting the indigenously manufactured Yun Feng supersonic cruise missile. According to Helfrich, You proclaimed that an extended-range variant of the missile “can already hit Beijing, and Taiwan has the ability to attack Beijing.”

To what end?

Would menacing Beijing deter Xi Jinping & Co. from aggression, or help Taiwan defeat them if not? Doubtful. International-relations wonks observe that one antagonist can try to deter another in two general ways. One, it can try to convince the opponent’s leadership it can’t get its way through the use of force. This is “deterrence by denial” in IR-speak. Or two, the contender assaying deterrence can try to convince hostile leaders that after-the-fact retaliation against aggression will exact such grave costs that the goal isn’t worth it. This is “deterrence by punishment.” Both modes of deterrence bank on a rational adversary’s standing down if its cause is hopeless or unaffordable.

Either way, deterrence demands that a competitor field sufficient capability—in this case precision armaments—to make good on its deterrent threats. It must amass capability sufficient to deny the aggressor its aims up front, or to mete out unbearable punishment afterward. But while Taiwanese officialdom contends that the island’s defense industry will now “mass produce” the Yun Feng, this seems to mean that Taiwanese rocketeers will operate a total of twenty missiles embarked in ten truck-mounted launchers. No matter how precise and destructive each Yun Feng, twenty rounds doesn’t amount to much volume of fire against a sprawling metropolis like Beijing—let alone a country like China, with its continental proportions and dispersed martial infrastructure.

The new missiles could be put to far better use. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) must launch a successful cross-strait amphibious invasion to bring Taiwan under mainland rule. This is what the Taiwanese armed forces must defeat. It’s hard to see how what would amount to revenge strikes against the Chinese capital city would either deny Xi his aims or convince the Chinese despot that conquering the island isn’t worth absorbing damage from counterstrikes. Xi has promised, loudly and often, to impose Chinese sovereignty on the island. He has staked his personal prestige as well as national dignity on it. He is all in. He’s not likely to relent because twenty missiles might lash out at the capital.

In fact, Xi might welcome such punitive attacks as an opportunity to whip up morale among the Chinese people. An incensed populace is a warlike populace.

Now, elsewhere in his remarks, You Si Kun did sound some useful themes. He observed that maritime geography will work in Taiwan’s favor in a cross-strait war. True enough. To triumph the PLA would need to ferry a massive expeditionary force across the Taiwan Strait; execute an opposed amphibious landing, among the most forbidding military operations in the book; and fight its way across a craggy island inhabited by some 23 million people who do not relish Chinese Communist rule. None of this is easy. In fact, learned commentators note that landing on Taiwan would be an enterprise roughly comparable in scope and hardship to landing in Nazi-occupied Normandy in 1944.

This is the discomfiting image Taiwan’s defenders must cast into Chinese minds.

If Taipei wants to give Xi Jinping pause, it must accumulate capabilities that make a cross-strait offensive a daunting if not hopeless prospect. It must deter by denial, gearing weapons acquisitions, tactics, and strategy to that all-important goal. If Taiwanese commanders want to put Yun Feng strikes to effective use, far better to target port infrastructure needed to support a PLA invasion fleet—piers, fuel facilities, ammunition supplies, and so forth—than to waste scarce rounds on such frivolities as attacking mainland cities. Or, given sufficient warning of an assault, Taiwan’s defenders could go after amphibious transports while they’re still at their moorings and stationary.

Ships that never get to sea deliver few soldiers to landing beaches.

One hopes You Si Kun’s words were a rhetorical flourish that doesn’t reflect the state of military thinking in Taipei. Taiwan is the weaker competitor vis-à-vis China. To prevail it must make every martial resource count. The prospect of seeing a few Yun Feng missiles lobbed into Beijing would neither deter nor defeat a PLA onslaught. Deploying Yun Fengs to help pummel an invasion fleet could do both.

A 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.” The views voiced here are his alone. Holmes also blogs at the Naval Diplomat

Written By

James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.”

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    June 23, 2022 at 3:22 pm

    Sinking ships loaded with battalions and brigades is the most efficient use of missiles. Ships loaded with fuel and high explosives are vulnerable, as the sinking of the Missile Cruiser Moskva just demonstrated.

    • Matthew P Musson

      June 27, 2022 at 11:21 am

      Destroying the embarkation ports are even more efficient. Remember Taiwan has had nuke plants since 1974. If they can master high tech chip foundaries, they can maste 1950’s nuclear technology. 1 nuke dropped on the main Chinese port could destroy invasion waves 2 through X.

      Taiwan could go nuclear over a long weekend.

      • David Chang

        June 27, 2022 at 8:48 pm

        God bless people in the world.

        According to Ten Commandments,
        people in American are going into the trap of socialism parties, such as C.C.P. and ruling party in T.P.K.M., like Vietnam War.

        Even Mr. McMaster does not know that the situation of US military in Taiwan is like the situation in Saigon. Because the ruling party in T.P.K.M. teaches awakening education and socialism to high school and college students.

        Therefore, when C.C.P. attack Taiwan, it is difficult for U.S. marine corps to predict the chaos in Taiwan.

        God bless America.

      • Jack

        July 10, 2022 at 12:22 pm

        If Taiwan doesn’t have 10 nukes ready to fly right now… that’s their big mistake…

  2. David Chang

    June 23, 2022 at 3:38 pm

    God bless people in the world.

    According to reason,
    missile tactic is like fleet salvos,
    missile strategy is to take the first strike.

    According to Ten Commandments,
    people in American are going into the trap of socialism parties,
    like Vietnam War.

    According to the advice of RAND,

    https://www.rand.org/blog/2019/10/how-the-united-states-could-lose-a-great-power-war.html

    electromagnetic warfare and space warfare are the vital risks of this war.

    Moreover,
    “By shifting the focus of defense planning away from a direct confrontation with our adversaries’ apparent advantages, horizontal escalation and cost imposition have a superficial appeal. But as the centerpiece of U.S. and allied deterrence, they will prove wanting. Indeed, relying too heavily on such approaches would play right into Chinese and Russian advantages.”

    God bless America.

  3. cobo

    June 23, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    This article raises an important question, from where does the incitement to war come? I would answer, the leadership. As you state, “An incensed populace is a warlike populace.” That’s correct, that is why it takes years of psychological preparation and coercive measures to make people fight in the first place, which the Chinese leadership has been doing for a long time.

    The general population of any country doesn’t give a flying monkey about fighting anyone, unless invaded. I think decaptitation of the leadership, by whatever means necessary, is an important component in the war scenario here.

  4. Blackswan

    June 23, 2022 at 9:42 pm

    This piece shows troubling ignorance, or worse, disregard of the history and culture of China.

    Put aside the military stupidity of attaching the capital of a much-stronger opponent while under attack, along with innumerable other complex aspects of such a hugely complicated and important issue, for now. Beijing is a city of invaluable historical heritage. The communists did not enter the city during the civil war of 1946-1949 until a surrender was reached. It was well understood by both side that whoever destroys the city would go down history in perpetual infamy.

    I’m still having a hard time processing the amount of un/conscious racism that’s been surfacing since Trump started the confrontational posture against China, which continues in full glory today, as vividly demonstrated by this sad piece. Would you even hint at the possibility of someone lobbing cruise missiles at London?

    Strategic deterrent is of course valuable. But what does this brilliant suggestion achieve?

    1. Damage, SEVERELY if successful, one of the most significant historical centers of the only civilization with no significant disruption for ~5,000 years. Is such a long history too much for some Americans to comprehend?

    2. Guarantee more devastating counterattack afterwards while achieving absolutely nothing in defending Taiwan. This is fundamentally different from MAD. Sure, in any case it’s the Chinese who would do the dying and all the other fun activities while we complain about inflation sitting safely 10,000 miles away. But are we ready to do this?

    This piece is clearly below the usual standard of this generally good site.

    • RogerBacon

      June 27, 2022 at 2:03 pm

      “1. Damage, SEVERELY if successful, one of the most significant historical centers of the only civilization with no significant disruption for ~5,000 years. Is such a long history too much for some Americans to comprehend?”

      LOL. I’ve been to Beijing. It’s a smog-filled eyesore — like all communist cities. No loss if it’s wiped out.

    • Kevthepope

      June 29, 2022 at 6:27 pm

      considering China’s Frenemy is loudly proclaiming London as a nuke site, where you been pal? EVERYTHING IS A TARGET today, and if the US is in a war with Beijing, eventually it’s on the menu too, if only to let them know the chance of you hitting DC is much less than the US pounding your cities to dust if you try to hide your military in them, no nukes needed. The only racism here is the one that seems to proclaim Beijing is special; Sorry, that sounds 100% like a racist load of crap from someone sitting in China. Spare me the rebuttal, just don’t invade Taiwan and you won’t have to spam the world on your special middle kingdom.

  5. David Chang

    June 24, 2022 at 12:15 am

    God bless people in the world.

    The Communist Party wage socialism war from 19th century, causing civil war and division in China.

    Although Mr. Kissinger have tried to stop total war, so he becomes the enemy of people in china.

    But the socialism parties in both sides of the Taiwan Strait want people in America to participate in china civil war, and make it to be total war.

    According to reason, United States will be forced in total war, and U.S. Marine Corps be in vital danger. It is the strategy risk of USN 7th Fleet.

    The strategy risk of USN 7th Fleet is the strategy risk of U.S. troops in Europe.

    God bless America.

    • Matthew P Musson

      June 27, 2022 at 11:25 am

      You forget that China imports 85% of it’s oil and 50% of it’s food and Agricultural inputs by ocean.

      5 destroyers in the straits of Malacca could interdict that flow. Within 3 months, Chinese surface transport stops. In 6 months, the lights go out. In 1 year – 300 million Chinese starve to death.

  6. David Chang

    June 24, 2022 at 11:48 am

    God bless people in the world.

    Most people in one-China, include mainland China and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu(T.P.K.M.), oppose U.S. President Trump and Dr. Kissinger.

    When U.S. President Trump say he don’t want America to be in total war, socialism parties in one-China laugh at him.

    When U.S. President Trump wants to achieve one-China policy, socialism parties in one-China oppose his right thought and the limited-war theory of Dr. Kissinger.

    But most people in T.P.K.M. cling to life cravenly and fear death.

    After US President Trump announce Abraham Accords, socialism parties in one-China ignore Abraham Accords.

    After the Chairman of Joint Staff General Milly say that US President Trump do not want to fight with China People’s Liberation Army,
    the ruling party in T.P.K.M. tell people that US President Trump betray people in T.P.K.M..

    But most people in T.P.K.M. still cling to life cravenly and fear death.

    While some people continue to promote the killing of unborn people,
    While some people continue to oppose military and police,
    I pray to God for U.S. Marine Corps and USN 7th fleet.

    God bless America.

    • Steven

      June 28, 2022 at 9:19 am

      Trump ain’t president no more, bro.

  7. TG

    June 25, 2022 at 3:19 pm

    Hmm… But, couldn’t the mainland Chinese just blockade Taiwan and starve them out? If not so much of food, certainly of energy and raw materials etc. I mean, it was really mines laid by US submarines that defeated the Japanese in WWII. It would seem to me that a blockaded Taiwan would ultimately have no option but to sue for peace, and surely a blockade would be a lot cheaper and surer than an invasion.

    Of course, interrupting the supply of advanced semiconductors from Taiwan would really mess up global supply chains, but at least with a blockade the factories would still be intact rather than reduced to rubble.

    • David Chang

      June 26, 2022 at 5:16 pm

      Even Mr. McMaster does not know that the situation of US military in Taiwan is like the situation in Saigon. Because the ruling party in T.P.K.M. teaches awakening education and socialism to high school and college students.

      Therefore, when C.C.P. attack Taiwan, it is difficult for U.S. marine corps to predict the chaos in Taiwan.

      God bless America.

    • TallDave

      July 1, 2022 at 4:38 pm

      lol who’s starving out whom? as soon as PLA stages for the invasion all Chinese oil, coal, and food imports will be shut off and all export orders will be cancelled… people will be starving to death in the streets of Beijing and Wuhan long before anyone misses a meal in Taipei

      but no, blockade is just not feasible… even in the extremely unlikely event that the navies of South Korea, Japan, and Australia do absolutely nothing, Taiwan can still mine the strait

      probably the main reason Taiwan is still around

  8. Omega 13

    June 27, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    I’d drop a nuke on Peking just out of spite, but that’s me. I loathe ChiComs.

  9. Bihari Krishna Shrestha NEPAL

    June 30, 2022 at 12:41 pm

    In any case if a war does break out between China and Taiwan, sooner or later, it is the latter that will be subdued, although at immense cost in men and material on both sides of the Straits. The point is, US once again is indulging in a hopeless, self-defeating mission when it pretends to impress the Taiwanese that it would come to their rescue if invaded by China. America has borne enough of disrepute in recent decades such as having to run away from Saigon from its rooftops or flying away from Kabul with Afghans feeling betrayed, and hundreds of them clinging to their runaway aircraft while it took off. Even otherwise, its domestic situation is in total chaos as evidenced by the January 6 assault of Capitol Hill. Therefore, it is time for US to engage in serious introspection as to how to regain its reputation as a responsible nation at the world stage. By all accounts, Taiwan has always been a part of China and that was why Chiang Kai-shek was able to run off to Taiwan without any resistance from the latter after KMT was defeated by Mao in 1949. In short, America should use its clout to bring about peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the mainland, and not engage once again in stoking conflict in East Asia, a region that has remained volatile for a long time already. While America has failed even to face up to the rag tag Taliban in Afghanistan, it knows that China is vastly different. As things stand, America’s recent activities in the East Asia region like QUAD, IPS etc. would only anger China and that is downright irresponsible.

    • Joe Comment

      July 11, 2022 at 7:08 pm

      The main obstacle to peaceful unification of the Mainland with Taiwan is the Mainland. It does not offer anything that could possibly be attractive to the people of Taiwan and hopes to achieve unification through intimidation alone. The first necessary step is for the Mainland to publicly commit to a peaceful solution.

  10. Karl Johnson

    July 1, 2022 at 2:55 am

    Mr. Holmes’ articles are always thoughtful, insightful, and are expressed with a degree of clarity. However, the thinking behind them is often limited in scope. For example, to send a strong deterrent message to the CCP the Taiwanese military does not have to carpet bomb Beijing, they only need to hit the command and control centers and the headquarters of the PLA and the CCP. With this they will send the right message and force Mr. Xi to explain these events to the Politburo. There is a range of other targets, some of which have been mentioned above, the ports, ships, fuel depots, etc. But, what has not been mentioned is the damage to Beijing’s infrastructure that would be possible, even with a limited number of missiles. For example, the Three Gorges dam, air bases and air ports, the national train system. Any damage to Mainland China’s infrastructure would be very, very embarrassing to Xi and the CCP. This kind of attack would clearly illustrate the Mainland’s vulnerabilities, call into question the wisdom of their decisions and their ability to protect the nation.

  11. TallDave

    July 1, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    otoh striking visible Party landmarks in Beijing could cause such shame and consternation as to bring down the Communist regime even as it almost certainly loses an extremely unpopular war

    when an opponent’s power structure is delicately balanced, symbolic victories have often been more important than real ones

    and it would be unpopular — China is far, far more vulnerable than Russia to the supply chain shocks that would accompany even the first signs of staging an invasion force on the Strait

    Chinese people would be starving in the cold and dark before the first ship was launched

  12. H.R. Holm

    July 9, 2022 at 10:59 pm

    I would think the objective of attacking Beijing would be to take out the CCP, to include Xi. But they all could be anywhere in the city, and scattered about at likely unknown locations at the time of the missile attack. Even with 200 missiles, it might well only be a shot-in-the-dark grab-bag attempt. But a more likely scenario is that the day or evening before any invasion of Taiwan is launched, Xi & CCP &Co. are going to secretly hi-tail it out of the city for a well-fortified underground command post/complex somewhere considerably outside the city. And/or Xi might have an airborne command post ready and waiting to take off on short notice, with all his key military and political power-players accompanying him. These are all but ironclad certainties, if only as precautions. Yes, Taiwan would be better off taking on the invasion assets and/or their staging areas themselves. Getting Xi & CCP core would be a nice bonus, if enough missiles were left over, but still too likely undoable.

  13. David Chang

    July 11, 2022 at 2:25 am

    God bless people in the world.

    King of Japan and Former prime minister Abe confess the sin of people in Japan, especially is socialism party in Japan, during World War II.

    But democratic party do not confess that they cooperate with U.S.S.R. from World War II, and do not repent to God.

    Mr. Abe opposes socialism, but democratic party don’t obey Ten Commandments and incite war.

    Mr. Abe wants people in China, Japan and South Korea against socialism.

    But democratic party in mainland China, T.P.K.M., Japan and South Korea, believe socialism.

    Because of war is about morality, monetary policy, soldier training, weapons manufacturing and time.

    In February 27, 2022, Mr. Abe say that people in Japan should think about the combat procedures of counter-offense after being attacked with missiles of mass destruction. His words also remind us that war is not free and easy as Democratic Party in T.P.K.M. say.

    God bless Mr. Abe and rest his soul in peace.

    • Joe Comment

      July 26, 2022 at 1:48 am

      David Chang: Japan has an emperor, not king. Their political party in WWII was ultranationalist, not socialist. The US political parties were always strongly anti-USSR. Most US politicians are Christians, but that’s neither here nor there. Mainland China is ruled by a communist, not democratic, party. By T.P.K.M. I assume you mean Taiwan, but socialist parties have no power there, in Japan or in South Korea. Nobody says war is free and easy. In short, hardly anything you wrote above seems to make sense.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Advertisement